José Ignacio: Puerto Tranquilo

 

calle tranquilo en José Ignacio

The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step… or a long bus ride.  Our summer vacation began in early February (summer in Argentina) with a ferry ride across the Paraná, from Buenos Aires to la Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay.

Off the dock in Colonia, we hopped on a double-decker cruising bus.  Sure beats traveling on a recycled school bus ready for its next incarnation.  I flashbacked to the early 80s, traveling steep snaky dirt roads in the Guatemalan highlands.  When I came back to my senses on the luxe bus, there were no baskets of fresh fruit, veggies and squawking chickens on the roof, and no pesky goat lookin’ for whatever tastes good in your backpack.  Goats are equal opportunity consumers as well as consummate recyclers… not to mention smelly and noisy, but they do have cute kids.  Don’t forget to cross yourself if an overloaded, swaying truck appears around the next corner.  And if a tire suddenly blows, the culturally correct response is laughter and wild clapping of hands.  Take it easy folks, thanks to la Pachmama we’re still alive and kickin’.

If you were traveling in Central American in the early 80s, nobody laughed when jackbooted paramilitary squads pulled your bus over at a checkpoint.  Everyone had to line up and show their papers… men over here, women over there.  What always struck me — and it happened many times — was just how young those helmeted soldier-boys were.  Sixteen?  Seventeen?  Every single one armed to the teeth, most notably with an AK47.  A gift from the CIA, no doubt, or some international gunrunner with military connections.  The CIA was oh so helpful to groups of armed men fighting to protect their countries from the bonds of our “sphere of influence.”  You know I’m kidding, right?  So close to our own backyard.  These soldier boys were always wowed by my California driver’s license.  They wanted to hear about the beaches, the surfing, California girls.  Most of the time time they forgot to ask me what I was doing in a war zone.  Too many Beach Boys songs, I guess.

no goat ride-along… just a chicken

But I digress.  We rode our cushy bus from Colonia to Punta del Este, that wannabe mini Miami 209 miles (337 km) north of Colonia.  Our expat friends picked us up in a rental car.  Their car had been stolen, then impounded by customs, and was awaiting trial for its owners being Uruguay residents and property owners driving a car with Argentine plates.  Bad enough having your car stolen, then having to go to court to get it back, knowing the fines and lawyer’s fees will be more than what it’s worth.  Don’t you just love South American bureaucracy?  Full-on medieval.  Lots of hands out every step of the way.  Kind of like an inescapable codependent fling.  An interminable nightmare.  I recently found out that Argentine judges can hold prisoners in jail indefinitely until it pleases them to set a trial date.  There is no right to a speedy trial by a jury of your peers.  And if you do go to trial, like Cristina Kirchner, Argentine ex-president, accused of skimming in the 8 digits, you can be let out on indefinite bond, especially if no one will come forward to testify against you.  She was re-elected to a congressional seat last year, and no doubt will be running for president again in 2019.  Being out of the limelight is just too tiresome for most politicians.  Everybody wants to keep their hand in the cookie jar.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

Geez, I’m trying to get politics off my mind and back to summer vacation.  I guess that means I need some more time off.  Yesterday I was fantasizing about Zihuatanejo, my favorite Mexican beach town.  Three times in one lifetime isn’t nearly enuf for this dreamer.

 

I think I need a supersize dose of that good ‘ol Zen mindfulness.  Like, y’know, being in the Here and Now.  Ommmm…  Listen up, brothers and sisters.  The Argentine peso is in free fall these last few weeks, and the government is in a state of paralysis. The only scheme they’ve come up with is to beg the IMF for a $30 billion bailout that everyone knows will be impossible to pay back.  On the morning news I heard that Argentine is now considered a deindustrialized country.  What the F#*%?  Not enough money to retool factories, let alone build new ones.  Not enough guita to lift the marginalized out of poverty and homelessness.  Since Macri was elected (2015) the percentage of Argentines living in poverty has jumped to 30%.  The government figures are lower: up to 25.7% in 2018. [Indec.gob.ar]  Politicians always accuse the government of rounding down.  Your guess is as good as mine.  According to Indec, Buenos Aires has the lowest level of poverty in the nation: 9% per capita, 5.6% by household.  In my barrio on the fringe of town poverty per capita is 25.5%, 17.4% per household.  Foreign investment slowed to a grinding halt in May, then went retrograde.  Argentine capital booked a flight offshore… like it hasn’t already been there for years.  Bye-bye!

In January Bill Gates met with Argentine president Mauricio Macri at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.  Gates (founder of Microsoft and second richest man in the world) told Macri he’s ready to invest in Argentina as soon as Macri lets Milagro Sala out of jail.  Sounds like a no-brainer to me, but …. apparently Macri is not the brightest star when it comes to economics and/or human rights.

Bill Gates with Angela Merkel and Mauricio Macri in Davos, January 2018

Milagro Sala is an Argentine political, social and indigenous leader.  She is the head of Tupac Amaru, a neighborhood organization which has constructed thousands of homes in the province of Jujuy (pronounced who-whó-ee).  She is a leader of the Central de Trabajadores Argentinos (CTA), a workers’ union.  The right to form unions and to go on strike is written into the Argentine constitution.  Not so in the U.S., where teachers recently went on “walkouts” in a number of states where striking is illegal.  Milagro has been fighting the expropriation of native lands in Jujuy  by both Argentine and international corporations.  She’s currently still under house arrest.  Luckily she has a few angels watching over her.

Milagro Sala with Papa Francisco.  [photo © http://www.cronista.com]

Argentina’s heading down that ol’ lonesome road into economic crisis yet again.  Many working class Argentines are having to choose between buying food or paying rent.  Utilities doubled in the last 12 months.  Public transport (bus and subte) has nearly doubled… from 6 pesos to 11 [about 40 cents].  Projected inflation for this year (2018) is 27.4%. [Invenónmica.com.ar]  Rumor has it there are food shortages in southern Patagonia because truckers can’t break even on account of diesel prices.  Truck drivers are having a “paro” tomorrow: a one day work stoppage.  They would like to have their wages kept up with inflation… good luck!  I was watching a progressive tv channel last week which was unexplicably off the air the next night.  Now it’s back on with a different, less contentious host.  I hope this train stops before we get to the Venezuela station.  Is there a rest stop somewhere on this highway of the damned?

Friends, we’re not in Kansas anymore.   We saddled up our horses and rode to a verdant oasis called José Ignacio, on the coast of Uruguay.  Take a deep breath and forget all about the gloomy news.  Catch a glimpse of this beautiful hideaway at the end of the trail, where we spent 10 glorious days in February.  Our expat friends from California have been living in this part of the continent since their kids were little — the kids are in college now.  As fun-loving freeloaders we offered to be guest chefs and house-sitters; we even brought recipes we promised to cook.  Because of our friends’ wheels-in-the-hoosegow problem, and on account of their participation in Carnaval, we became dog, cat and houseplant sitters as well as chefs-du-jour.  The beach was a five minute stroll down a dirt road, across a two-lane highway, over the dunes and onto a glorious, empty beach.

Daisy, quantifiably cute terrier and Santos’ new best friend and lap-warmer, loved to walk the beach with us.

Our friends’ house, a rambling 2-story brick structure, faces west to a protected wetlands and south to the beach.

There’s a wide shady galería for kicking back.  We had our toast and tea there every morning.

Quite a sweet spot.  All around us were fields of marsh grasses and thickets of blackberries, hydrangeas, cattails and other pretty flowers I don’t know by name.

Santos spotted a baby frog… precious!!

After posing for photos it jumped back into the cattails.

Walking around the neighborhood we came across an old Chevy pickup,

and quite a few homes made from recycled containers.

How cool is that?  Let’s hope they have plenty of insulation.

Santos and Beth on the front porch

Did we land in paradise or what?  We ate outside every night on the outdoor dining deck.  We threw down plenty of grilled steaks, chicken, chorizos and morcilla, all grilled on the parrilla – an Argentine wood-fired barbecue.  We fixed pasta with fresh shrimp sauteed in garlic and jalapeños.  And what’s not to love about grilled veggies, especially peppers, onions, eggplant, corn, tomatoes, squash — if it’s fresh, edible and you can put it on the fire, it will be delicious.

In the evenings we would watch the sunset until the stars came out, drinking Malbec and talking with our friends.  Around 10 pm we would head to the kitchen and start fixin’ supper.  Argentines eat late, European-style.  Beth made roasted artichoke-parmeggiano appetizers that were amazing.

The sunrises and sunsets were spectacular, especially the view from the second story deck.  Big pink sunset taken by yours truly from that magical spot.

Our friends let us use their amazing beach chairs that shapeshifted into backpacks, with big pockets and cupholders for beach blanket bingo, drinks, munchies, book, fishing gear, stray kittens… whatever you might need for a few hours of beachcombing, swimming or splashing around, reading a good book, dreaming in the sand.  The only thing these folding chairs don’t do is transport you to the beach and make daiquiris.  But that’s okay, we improvised.

Santos went for a swim and found the edge of terra firma just a few yards out.  The sand beneath his feet was just gone… Upa!  No wonder they call it Playa Brava.  There were only a few other people on the beach during the week.  By a few I mean 4 or 5, seriously.  On the weekends we saw more people, but we never came close to feeling crowded.  It was mid February and summer was winding down.  School would be starting back up at the end of the month.  The days were still hot but the wind kicked up mid-afternoon.  In California we call them sundowners…  a late afternoon breeze that calms down after sunset.  Porteños are such urbanites, when they go to the beach they all go to the same beach and it looks like the French Riviera… masses of people all clustered together under little umbrellas.  But José Ignacio was tranquilo. Muy tranqui. 

Almost every day we made a run to the fresh fish place, a few klics down the road.  It’s just past the little unspoiled (as of yet) beach town of José Ignacio, at the next cruce de caminos, near the Laguna Garzón bridge.

The ladies who work there are delightful, and all the fish is that day’s catch.  They close when they sell out.

The first day these girls shelled a kilo of shrimp for us in record time, smiling.  Another day we bought all kinds of fish and crustaceans to make cioppino… delicious!  I made fish tacos with my favorite yogurt-lime-chile sauce.  Cooking is truly a creative pastime.  Why not do it with joy?

Kite-surfing at Laguna Garzón.  It’s a mile-long lagoon protected from the ocean by dunes.

 

Santos and Beth at the fish place.

Our wonderful hosts let us use their bicis whenever they weren’t home; we biked into town almost every day. There’s a bike path most of the way.  José Ignacio is so tranqui.  There are two beaches in José Ignacio: Playa Mansa and Playa Brava.  Playa Brava (rough, turbulent), where Santos almost went to Davy Jones, is on the south side of the point, facing the prevailing winds.  It can be pretty breezy in the afternoons.  Playa Mansa (mansa = gentle) faces east, and is protected by the point, kinda like Avila Beach near San Luis Obispo, my ‘ol stomping grounds. 

Playa Mansa

El Faro, the lighthouse, is right on the point between Playa Brava and Playa Mansa.  José Ignacio is small – about 6 blocks by 7 blocks.  Population 290.  There are lots of cute little beach houses on the point…. many are vacation rentals.

Our friends tell us the whole town shuts down in winter, including the shops.  Population zero.  They go back to Montevideo or Buenos Aires, or California.  When it’s winter here, it’s summer in the states.  If I could afford two places I’d definitely go for the endless summer.

Below is the beach on the other side of the lighthouse: Playa Brava.  You can see at a glance  that the water is rough and tempestuous.  People walk along this beach, but they swim and sun on Playa Mansa.

La Farola is a lovely restaurant with even lovelier views… ¿qué no?  Everything in José Ignacio is just a couple of blocks from the beach.

Santos liked the municipal center.

We took a break under a palm tree – it was a hot day.

Another day we had coffee at Almacen El Palmar.

El Palmar has live music off and on all afternoon and into the evening.  There’s a mike, a guitarist, percussion… even a singer.  The canopied dining room lets the breeze in but not the sun.

Time for a cappuccino and croissant, or house empanadas?  You got it.

Are we hungry yet?  They have local cheese, too.

No wonder Mark Zuckerberg has a house in José Ignacio…. or so I’m told.  No one will bother him here.  This is a very laid-back beach; it’s a safe place.  Muy tranquilo.  We discovered a great farm stand selling fresh organic fruits and vegetables: La Granja Orgánica José Ignacio.

What a great place! I brought back the shopping bag.  Their emblem is the Southern Cross.

la Cruz del Sur

We parked our bicis at the farmstand or the café, so we could walk about.  The lighthouse is open daily but we didn’t feel like paying to climb circular stairs.  El Faro is  mighty pretty though, and lends a charming touch to the scenery — as well as keeping boats from breaking up on the rocks.  José Ignacio also has a general store with a veggie counter, a butcher, homemade empanadas and pizzas to go, and just about all the groceries you could want.  It’s a small store, so if they don’t have it, do you really need it?

This is the other restaurant I mentioned, La Huella, (the footprint) on Playa Mansa.

Here it is at night.  We checked out the menu while beachcombing one afternoon.  A beautiful spot, right on the edge of Playa Mansa.

One night we went to meet friends of our friends at a big party beach on the south side of Punta del Este.  There was loud annoying pop music coming from a beach bar, all rhythm, all repetitive, no lyrical content, with only the vaguest attempt at melody—yikes!  Nothing like bad disco music to put me into a foul mood.  Rock’n’Roll, Blues, Country, Classical, Tango, Flamenco… a thousand times yes.  But disco?  Yeeech.  After the sun went down we froze.  It was windy.  The only thing we had to stave off the cold was vino tinto in a box, and I can’t drink much of that without getting a headache.  The conversation reminded me of when I subbed for a class of 6th grade boys, the constant idiotic chatter and crude jokes.  We didn’t even have a fire to warm up our circle of 10.  I closed my eyes and wished I was elsewhere, dancing tango… my happy zone.

We hung out with the same group of people a week later at Carnaval in Punta del Este.  I guess the ice had melted… it was a lovely warm evening.  We had fun.  One of the party had arranged for a long table right on the sidewalk at a pizza place.  The table was inside a clear plastic tent-like structure, so there was nothing between us and the parade.  We could see and be seen, but protected from the wind.  I didn’t bother taking pictures ’cause I just wanted to enjoy the moment… the dancing, the outfits, the drumming.  It was amazing!  A sight not to be missed.  Maybe one of these days I’ll get to N’Orleans, or Rio.  We enjoyed Carnaval.  It was a memorable last night in Uruguay.

Trump showed up for the dancing girls.

The very next morning we left Punta on the bus to Colonia.  As homesick as we were for Buenos Aires and our favorite milongas, we still had a few hours to kill before boarding the ferry.  We wandered around the historic district, walked out to the point and the lighthouse, and finally settled in for light refreshments at one of our favorite waterfront bistros.

I love this view.

Santos kicked back.

We watched a boat sail in to the marina on a gentle breeze.

Over and out from la Colonia del Sacramento!

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Here’s Looking at Portland

Portlandevening2*

PORTLAND IS ALL ABOUT THE RIVER… broad and busy by day, stunningly elegant by night.

view of the the South Waterfront from further south

view of the the South Waterfront, taken from the Sellwood Bridge

Portland is a sprawling city of 600,000 bisected by the Willamette River, divided into quadrants, spanned by a dozen bridges, and bounded on its northern shore by the Columbia River and the state of Washington.

yacht harbor on a gorgeous day, taken from the waterfront bike trail

downtown yacht harbor, at the end of Montgomery St.

The Port of Portland, located about 80 miles upriver from the Pacific Ocean, is the largest freshwater port in the U.S.A. Portland ships out more wheat than any other U.S. port, and is the second largest port for wheat in the world.

The northernmost bridge of Portland is so Gotham City:

St. John's Bridge, photo by Ben

St. John’s Bridge, photo by Ben

Each bridge has its own flavor and story… all impressively heavy metal, functional, and even inspiring.

Hawthorne Bridge and boats

Hawthorne Bridge and yacht harbor on a gorgeous May day

the cute version

the cute version

Under construction is yet another bridge which will facilitate multiple forms of public transport across the Willamette: Max Light Rail, Tri-Met buses, the Portland streetcar, pedestrians and bicycles: NO CARS ALLOWED! Popular Science magazine awarded Portland the title Greenest City in America in 2008.

TriMet bridge

TriMet bridge: completion expected in 2015

Portland is famous for its outdoorsy, tree-hugging, bicycle-riding, homemade beer brewing and coffee slurping liberals. There are more than 60 breweries here. In 2010, CNBC named Portland the Best City for Happy Hour in the U.S.

for those of you who go for the brew

for those of you who go for the brew

Ever seen the TV show Portlandia? It satirizes the city as “a hub of liberal politics, organic food, alternative lifestyles and anti-establishment attitudes.” [Wikipedia] What other city can happily negotiate such a dysfunctional but workable dynamic between guns, gays and greens? Perhaps that explains the weltanschauung behind the Keep Portland Weird movement.

images

Ben sums up Portland in 2 words: pedestrians vs. cyclists. He thinks walkers and hikers don’t like bicyclists ’cause they damage the environment… I mean, seeing a bike tire track in the mud of your favorite hiking trail would make anybody flip and run for their gun… wouldn’t you? …ja ja… and naturally bicyclists wish pedestrians would just get the hell outta the way!! But the real issue has, perhaps, more to do with primal fear: fear, that is, of being turned to toast under 2000 lbs. of steel and rubber. I found an intriguing apropos discussion on the City of Portland website, just for a reality check:

4 types of cyclists orange2

The intrepid few “Strong & Fearless” identify primarily as bicyclists, and ride everywhere without fear (or almost everywhere), under any and all road and weather conditions. Truly courageous or merely suicidal?

he's multi-tasking

a multi-tasking cyclist

The “Enthused & Confident” — like Ben — ride daily to work or school, for the pure joyful adrenalin rush of riding. (Also to save bucks and shrink their carbon pawprint). Who wouldn’t want to ride Portland’s beautiful bike lanes and bike boulevards?  There’s even bike lane stoplights and, lucky for me, no bike path traffic cameras! Not yet, anyway. Is it a crime to cross on the red when there’s no traffic in any direction?

OK, but... what if I can't find  the speedometer on my bike?

OK, but… what if my bike doesn’t have a speedometer?

As Portland has been particularly supportive of urban bicycling, it now ranks amongst the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world. Approximately 8% of commuters bike to work, the highest proportion of any major U.S. city and about 10 times the national average. [Wikipedia]

Main Map-v3

“The Interested but Concerned” group covers the vast majority of Portland cyclists. “They like riding a bicycle… they would like to ride more. But, they are AFRAID to ride. They don’t like cars speeding down their streets. They get nervous when a driver runs a red light, or guns their car around them, passing by too closely and too fast.” (City of Portland Bicycle Plan 2030) Sounds like me. I KNOW I’m taking my life into my hands every time I get on my bike. Duh!

weird cyclist

“No Way No How!” is the anthem of group four. Besides primal fear and equally primordial  laziness (aversion to exertion), not to mention the over-abundance of Pacific Northwest Stormy Mondays, they may be unknowing victims of an acute case of nostalgia for the gas-guzzling, chrome-dazzling Twentieth Century; back in the day when petroleum was plentiful, and joy riding in a true-blue Made in the U.S.A. cruiser was a sign of status and All-American Attitude. On a lucky day you may still catch sight of one around town:

'63 Lincoln

’63 Lincoln… yea, baby!

Pontiac Bonneville - 1965?

’64 Pontiac Bonneville

el Jefe chillin' in the back seat

el Jefe chillin’ in the back seat

You don’t have to be a cute mutt in a cool car to be in my blog, either:

Charlie & me

Charlie & me

But wait… we’re not done with the bridges yet! A block from our apartment in the Pearl District is the Broadway Bridge:

Broadway Bridge

riverfront walk near the Broadway Bridge

Portland’s urban growth boundary, adopted in 1979, separates urban areas (where high-density development is encouraged and focused) from traditional farm land (where restrictions on non-agricultural development are very strict). This was quite atypical in an era when automobile use led many areas to neglect their core cities in favor of development along interstates, in suburbs, and bedroom communities. Former industrial areas reeking of urban decay were “redeveloped” into prosperous new neighborhoods… like the Pearl District. The city has grown inward and upward, as opposed to sprawling outward. Impresionante, Portland! California, are you listening? 

Burlington RR Bridge

the Burlington Bridge: a railroad bridge with a vertical lift

the Steel Bridge

the Steel Bridge: bike & pedestrian path AND train tracks on the bottom, cars on top

Almost 200 years of industry (shipping, logging, manufacturing) went into making Portland the city it is today. This heritage is breathtakingly visible in the older parts of the city and all along the riverfront, especially around the industrial waterfront and deepwater port. Heat-forged iron and steel trusses and beams hold up bridges and docks. Old brick buildings and warehouses were reborn as shops, bistros, cafés, apartments and lofts, galleries and urban “outfitters.”

below the bridge

the poetry of steel, under the bridge

Portland is so modern and yet its history continues to underwrite its modernity. I really like this contrast, in which each flip side of the coin does not disavow its alter-ego. Past and present are connected in a wabi-sabi “…beauty that treasures the passage of time, and with it the lonely sense of impermanence it evokes.” [Diane Durston: Wabi Sabi, The Art of Everyday Life, 2006]

Morrison Bridge on a grey afternoon

Morrison Bridge on a still, grey afternoon

big train comin' thru the Steel Bridge, photo by Ben

big train comin’ thru the Steel Bridge, photo by Ben

lkjhasdf

random tango dancer in Biker Babe jacket checking out the income-producing side of the river

Portland has an impressive and beautiful downtown, lined by scores of trees, parks and greenspace, and the ultra-beautiful Japanese gardens:

Japanese Gardens

Portland Japanese Gardens

The International Rose Garden has a stunning amphitheater. We walked up there yesterday, in a light rain:

amphiteatro2*

We haven’t seen the Chinese gardens yet, but I’ve heard they’re stunning!

Portland Chinese Gardens

Portland Classical Chinese Garden

Portland is a fabulous and colorful city, well known for being cool, hip, fashionably eco-sustainable-everything, and ultra walkable (a walkscore of 98 in the Pearl District), with a kid-friendly, tech-friendly urban vibe.

Streetcars rock Portland!

Streetcars rock Portland!

Portlanders are friendly, multicultural, awake and aware of what’s goin’ on in their world and their town. Artists, hipsters, locavores, LGBTs, tree-huggers, tango dancers, Power-to-the-People progressives, retired hippies, fanatics of every stripe, wealthy young entrepreneurs and tekkie types…. and cool habitats for humanity from A – Z. The growth of high-tech startups and related businesses have earned Portland the nickname Silicon Forest. Powell’s Books, whose three stories above ground take up an entire city block, claims to be the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. Portland is also the karaoke capital of the U.S.!

Hoyt Street townhouses

Hoyt Street townhouses

What do I like most about Portland? My liveable downtown neighborhood, the Pearl.

pedestrian path

pedestrian path in the Pearl

Jamison Square reminds me of ___ Gardens in Paris

Jamison Square reminds me of the Luxembourg Gardens

kid-friendly waterfall/pond at Jamison Square

kid-friendly Jamison Square fountain

our friendly neighborhood Lovejoy Bakery

our friendly neighborhood Lovejoy Bakery

looking down on the bakery from our apartment on a sunny day

looking down on the bakery from our apartment on a sunny day

I also love the ubiquitious cafés with outdoor seating, reminding me of Buenos Aires and European cities. Here’s our favorite, authentic (all the staff imported from Italy), delicious trattoria, Piazza Italia, right around the corner from Jamison Square.

Piazza Italia

Piazza Italia

Downtown Portland’s numerous cafés remind me of Buenos Aires, Rome, Barcelona, Paris… they make you feel like the streets in your hood are an extension of your living room! Sustainable living abounds, complete with rooftop gardens, terraces, wind turbines, solar power, etc. What do I mean by sustainable etc? I know, I had to look it up too. See my notes at end.*

another lovely pedestrian path in the Pearl

another pretty pedestrian path in the Pearl

Portland has many different faces: cool steel under grey skies…

;jhasdf

reflecting pool

convention center

convention center

parks, pedestrian and bicycle trails all along the river…

waterfrontpark**

springtime waterfront

waterfront in spring

juxtaposition of old and new in the Pearl District

juxtaposition of old and new

colorful streetcars

green & yellow streetcar

blue streetcar

blue streetcar

old and new cottages on the south waterfront

old and new cottages on the south waterfront, a stone’s throw from the river

A perfect example of wabi-sabi: isn’t the one on the left so timelessly beautiful? (Maybe needs a little work on the interior…)

houseboats & sailboat on the Willamette

houseboats & sailboat on the Willamette

Ben says he likes the culture of Portland. Portlanders are quite courteous, both on and off the dance floor. They respect walkers and cyclists… they stop for you even when they don’t have to. Portlanders find value in music, dance, food, the arts… and in people connecting with each other. The pace of life is slower. Huge ships in port are constantly loading and unloading, while at the same time fishermen troll the river in small boats. Portlanders work to continually improve their quality of life; they don’t just care about the environment; they make it HAPPEN.

Sauvie Island - my favorite idyllic getaway only 10 miles upriver

Sauvie Island – my favorite idyllic getaway only 10 miles upriver

Sauvie Island rules & regs: but no one's watching

Sauvie Island rules & regs: overzealous verbiage to be sure

Portlanders also care about what goes into their food, i.e., Portland is NOT a fast-food paradise. Human beings are essentially the same everywhere (our DNA is identical, right?) but the culture here has developed favorably for a healthy, sustainable environment, and people-friendly transportation systems.

The climate is, well… I’ve written pages making fun of the climate. Seriously, I like it hot, humid and tropical! Sadly, today is yet another drizzly grey day here in Portlandia. Seems like there’s only one season here. The trees change but not the weather. But if it keeps the unwashed hordes from discovering and moving to this idyllic Pacific Northwest homeland… it’s okay.

wabi-sabi doorknobs

wabi-sabi doorknobs in a recycled building materials shop

That’s all for now, friends… stay tuned for my next post: the Portland Tango scene. You’re gonna like it!

*What do I mean by environmentally sustainable design? It’s the philosophy of designing physical objects, the built environment, and services to comply with the principles of social, economic, and ecological sustainability. McLennan, J. F. (2004), The Philosophy of Sustainable Design. More references: (1) Anastas, P. L. and Zimmerman, J. B. (2003). Through the 12 principles of green engineering. Environmental Science and Technology. March 1. 95-101A. (2) Fan Shu-Yang, Bill Freedman, and Raymond Cote (2004). Principles and practice of ecological design. Environmental Reviews. 12: 97–112. (3) Holm, Ivar (2006). Ideas and Beliefs in Architecture and Industrial design: How attitudes, orientations, and underlying assumptions shape the built environment. Oslo School of Architecture and Design. You gotta appreciate research and researchers! They help dummies like you and me make sense of the world we live in!

Ciao from Portland!

Ciao from Portland!

Barcelona III: Milongas and Prime Directives

Are you ready to tune into a new channel? You could call it the Universal Channel (no, not Universal Pictures; not the Disney Channel, either). Let’s call it the CLC: Cosmic Light Channel. Ready to tune in and have your DNA synced? Ready to get rebooted by the galactic synchronizer? I keep hearing from every twinkle twinkle little star, saying that our bodies are gonna be receiving electromagnetic pulses from the CLC which will greatly accelerate our own personal evolutionary journeys! Not a roller-coaster ride, please! Just a gentle ZAP! from the cosmic mother board, like the little slap on the bottom babies get after leaving the tranquil maternal seas.

Spock

Spock

A lot of that grey matter which most of us have never used to capacity (Hey! speak for yourself!) may finally be put to work! And not just for ourselves, but for the benefit of all humankind. They say we should NOT go online, not watch TV, not travel, not use electronic devices (you gotta be kidding! ya mean, wean ourselves from the mother boobie?) during our “stimulus package” makeovers to avoid a quantum leap out of the cosmic jamba juicer into the proverbial (uh-oh!) frying pan! Not good! Steer clear of the Dark Side! No burnt side with my jumbo meal today, thanks! Definitely gotta cut back to fruits and veggies, nuts and spuds, during your cosmic tune-up and chakra alignment! I mean, you wouldn’t pour Karo syrup into your gas tank before a major road trip, would you?

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So, what should you do during your universal involuntary Solstice Synchronizing weekend? Well, food, sex and tango is always recommended… um, what else is there? More endorphins, please! Some serious prayer and meditation is always good idea, of course, with a little cosmic-chip wafer and wine. A scoop of Cherry Garcia in your smoothie will give you a better chance of chatting with you-know-who on the other side. Dark glasses to avoid being blinded by the Light. And don’t leave out the Xocolate!

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Well kids, If we’re going to be the heros and heroines of a universal paradigm shift, let’s do it with style and class: Enzo Ferrari all the way! Max out your carbon-cylinder footprint!  Be the protagonist of your own story, not the silent witness! If you decide to hibernate (highly recommended by non-tango dancer friends), stay at home, read, fix a fruit salad, bake your own bread, play with your kids, be creative! Make your own post-apocalypso holiday greeting cards, write a story and read it to your cat or dog (your cat will just fall asleep; your dog may provide helpful critical feedback).

So, just to be on the safe side, keep in mind these universal mandates:

  1. Resistance is futile (the Borg)
  2. Mutate now, avoid the rush! (Katie & Renie)
  3. Resist much, obey little (Edward Abbey)
  4. If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own! (Cosmic Muffin)

and these other guiding principles of La Vida Tanguera:

1)  keep doing it
2)  every time you do it you feel happy
3)  it turns your life upside down but you don’t care.

Graciela y Osvaldo La Yumba Tango y Milonga en Barcelona 0

La Yumba… our favorite Barcelona milonga!!

la Yumba

before the crowds

All the flavor of a real authentic Buenos Aires milonga!

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delicious dance floor!

We also like the Acuarilonga: an open air milonga a few steps from the aquarium, in the harbor right next to the Mare Magnum, surrounded by water with a bridge that connects to terraferma.

Acuarlionga

Sorry, I forget the name of this next milonga! Only a few blocks from our Eixample neighborhood, near Carrer d’Árago x Calabria. PR for milongas, prácticas, tango classes and workshops is spread out on the pool table. Nice bar, nice floor, nice vibe! Now, if we can just find it again… that would be nice!

unknown milonga!

possibly, La Milonga del Café

Catalans really like to play with words. There are 9 million Catalan speakers in Spain — no wonder they want their own borders — I don’t know how that would affect their economy; the way things are now, it could hardly be worse. But I’m no economist, so don’t string me up! I mean, I still use my fingers to count, ok? (All those years teaching kindergarten…) But the wonderful Catalan way with words leads to all these delightful milonga names, such as la Acuarilonga, la Milongallega (a gallego is someone of Spanish descent); la Gratalonga (a beautiful time); a milonga on the fringes of town: la Arrabalera; a milonga with a well-polished dance floor: la Bien Pulenta. How fun is that? Another night we stumbled onto a really cool milonga with live music in a tiny club. The sound was pretty decent, dance floor not bad, nice lighting, good dancers… check it out!

Milonga Bellos Aires

Milonga Bellos Aires

We went to an evening concert at Teatro Grec, an outdoor amphitheater up on the hill called Montjuic (monte de los Judíos), site of a Jewish cemetery dating to the Middle Ages, now a park and home to the Barcelona Olympic Stadium and numerous museums and event centers. Are you ready to recite the Barcy museum litany? :  there’s the MNAC (Museu Nacional d’Arte de Catalunya), the MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona), the CCCB (Centro de Cultura Contemporánia de Barcelona), el Museu Picasso, la Fundación Joan Miróla Fundación Antoni Tapíes, el Museu de la Historia de la Ciudad de Barcelona, el Museu Maritimo, and of course, la Pedrera, one of Gaudí’s many masterpieces. There’s lots more museums and galleries, but ¡ya basta!

the original iconic Art hipster

Dalí: the original iconic Art hipster

If you’re serious about Art, besides learning all the acronyms, reciting the litany, and looking the part (see above), you’ve got to get a museum pass, the Articket Barcelona.

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It costs €30, saves you a ton of plata and no more waiting in lines. Pre-concert to-do list: kick back, have a drink, and watch the Barcy sky fade to indigo blue.

Teatro Grec

Teatro Grec

Tango en vivo!   Juan José Mosalini, in center with white hair and sensational bandoneon, in the midst of his superb orchestra.

Orquesta Juan José Mosalini

Orquesta Juan José Mosalini

Nothing like the earthy atmosphere of ancient rock-quarry walls ceilinged with stars for awesome sound; mix in a few spotlights slowly morphing from blue to purple to red, highlighting the orchestra and the dancers. I was swept away by a sense of timelessness: what a fabulous evening!

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dancers in white

Mosalini had different couples wearing different colors to complement the different Nuevo Tango pieces, including several Piazzola heartbreakers.

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dancers in red

Tango dancers in...

dancers in… um… flowers

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Recognize this couple?

Sebastian Jimenez y María Inés Bogado……winners of El Mundial, salon style, 2010. We saw them at the Sitges Tango Festival in July.

And how about that Pipa Club? I think we should spend another month in Barcelona just dancing at La Pipa, Plaza Real (ok, Plaça Reial in Catalan)…

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we spotted our friend Gato Valdéz here

Who’s the guy next to Aníbal Troilo? Somebody please tell me!

LaPipa-Troilo

Cuarteto Irreal

We didn’t see Quarteto Irreal, but you gotta love the poster!

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Yet another sizzling hot tango poster, exemplifying this absolutely electrifying Mediterranean port!  But that’s not all… what about Barcy’s amazing soccer team?

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Yes, I’m a Barcy fan. Can you tell?

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Of course, you already know about the Gothic Quarter, el Ravel (next time you listen to Otros Aires’ tune, Rotos en el Ravel, listen to the words… they speak of the multiculturality of this famous and fabulous city, an “encyclopedia of humanity”). And you may recall the sunset Jazz Chill-Out cruise… but there’s more! I have yet to write about world-famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (does the name la Sagrada Familia ring a bell?) and the Costa Brava: the meandering coastline heading north to France, not just vaguely, but very reminiscent of our own Big Sur.

la Costa Brava

la Costa Brava

Barcy just can’t be summed up in a few words, but let me try: so many hip young people, so much music, art, creativity: such a phenomenal scene! The delicious (and cheap!) tapas, delectable wine, sangria, cava… affordable public transportation (buses, subways, trains), free drinking water and recycling bins on just about every block; protests for Catalan independence every other day; corner cafés, pubs and bistros everywhere, plus the amazing nightlife: the bar scene, the nightclubs, the parties spilling into the streets at all hours…  and a waterfront! Barcy reminds me so much of Buenos Aires. How do you spell culture, nightlife, fun times, outgoing, passionate and compassionate people? ¡ESPANYOLES BARCELONA CATALUNYA! 

Hold everything!

the Maritime Museum

But wait… hold everything! No, you’re not going to the Magic Fountains before looking at some of the world’s most stunning artifacts from early Catalunya. An old Spanish friend of mine, Miguel de Cervantes, always reminds us to educate as we entertain! Besides, where else are you gonna get ideas for next year’s Halloween costume?

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La Pelirroja: biblical heroine

winged saints...

winged saints…

meditating monks...

meditating monks…

All these lovely artifacts can be found in a beautiful former palace, the MNAC: Museo Nacional d’Arte Catalunya. My favorite Barcy museum, and former palace. (Please note: la Pelirroja is not her real name. Just foolin’ around.)

el Palacio Real

el Palacio Real on a very pretty day

gorgeous black steed

gorgeous black steed – rider’s head in the clouds?

So if you want to see the Magic Fountains of Montjuic, you must begin at the stunning Plaza España, just down the hill, in the middle of a very busy intersection.

Plaza d'España by day

Plaza España by day

view of the palace from below

looking up towards the MNAC from Plaza España

You climb up the hill, sonambulate around the museum for a few hours until it gets dark, turn yourself around and, wow!! quite the view of Barcelona! In the next photo you can see the Plaza España lit up in the background, between the giant obelisks. The big round building, once a bullring, is now a huge shopping mall.

looking down from up top

looking down from up top

Yeah, they get quite a crowd around dusk!

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the sound of the water, the lights, the music…

Merry Christmas everybody!!

Happy Holidays from Barcelona!!

And don’t for get to have a superlative transformative Solstice!

Over and out from Barcelona!

Over and out from Barcelona!

Paris Retrospective

shock and awe at Deyrolles

One night I dreamt I was still in Paris, at Deyrolles. A fabulous scene was filmed here, in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. In the dream, Ben and I spent a couple of hours just prowling around upstairs, and more than a few critters seemed to come to life before my eyes!

how do you think we look, dear? deer? aunty antelope?

I felt like I’d taken a step back in time. Perhaps a time warp of the imagination? Deyrolles still sells dessicated butterflies (dead, but still pretty), stuffed birds, and so on and so forth…. the price tag increases exponentially with the size of the dead critter, especially when the number of legs goes from 2 to 4 (with the exception of their insect collection, of course).

Oops! just noticed the grizzly?

Paris reverberates with music and musicians… every summer they have la Fête du la Musique, a big music festival, with free music all over the city, from small neighborhood cafés and clubs to giant concert halls and expo centers. We stumbled on this antique instrument shop one day as we were strolling around aimlessly… one of the best ways to see Paris.

old musical instruments for sale

are those lyres beside the harps?

Walking around Paris you find stuff you never dreamed of… like the best chocolatiers in the world.

Cocteau: avant-garde eggs

Unfortunately the average tourist who “does” Paris in a 3-day hypertour only gets off the double decker tour bus to file into the Louvre to see la Gioconda, and is too exhausted at the end of the day to relax and mingle with locals. Here are a few pix (hard to choose!) of some splendid creations:

Apricot pistachio tart…. yum

the essential baguette, fit for palace or attic alike

Ben, the aspiring baker, comments that the ONLY reason bakeries open (for a few hours) on Sundays is because people have to have fresh baguettes every day!

Salvador Dalí, well-known Spanish baguette lover and surrealist, did a fine series of illustrations for Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll’s fantastical story about a girl who wandered into a stranger than strange land. We saw the exhibit at the Espace Dalí  in Montmarte. Dalí’s ink drawings are amazingly delicate: such loving, precise and precious details… perhaps intended for a particular child, as was the book. Of course, Alice in Wonderland IS a children’s book… for the imaginative child in all of us.

white rabbit

Dalí knew that even Angels need a little extra support sometimes.

even Angels have rough days…

Salvador Dalí circa 1940

And since this is a retrospective with some of my favorite Paris photos, here’s Adam giving God a drag in Montmartre:

maybe this explains why so many Parisians smoke

Angels on both sides of the Atlantic

The above angel is from Recoleta, in Buenos Aires. Our own Mackinze is perhaps a less worldly Angel, but she sparkles even brighter than the crystal chandeliers of Versailles!

“she doth teach the torches to burn bright!” (Will Shakespeare)

Speaking of worldly, unworldly, otherworldly… (am I missing anything here?) in Paris I noticed that, despite the monstrosities you see in Vogue or on the fashion page, what women REALLY wear is what you see in the shop windows on the Champs Elysées.

I’d wear it too if I had the bucks!!

But la femme does not live by frock alone; we must accessorize!

Spanish fans are wearable Art. Vale?

This amazing fan shop is right across from the Museo de la Historia de Barcelona, Plaça del Rey. (Please excuse the Barcelona photos, I couldn’t resist!) Needless to say, I bought several, even some teeny tiny ones!

this is only one wall…

One cannot recall Paris, retrospectively or otherwise, without seeing the Louvre again. It’s huge, stunning, imposing… even intimidating. Imagine being a peasant from the 18th century, seeing the city for the first time! A LIFE-CHANGING EVENT!! Even if you’re a 21st century worker-drone!

the Louvre from across the Seine

nice front door… yeah

my favorite street artist, Miss.Tic

My favorite Starbucks, so Parisian!

on the Champs Elysées

How about my favorite guy in the universe?

traveling tanguero, takin’ it to the water

Here he is at Sunderland Club.

who’s the babe?

COMING SOON: my long-awaited post on the Sitges Tango Festival!

Ciao from North America!

Medieval field trip: Luxembourg, Gargoyles and Provins

Luxembourg Castle

One fine day we left Paris for a weekend drive to Luxembourg. The french countryside is so very beautiful, so very lush this summer, on account of all the rain. Abundant greenness everywhere, though not as wild and untamed as the more remote places back home in California.

old path and steps in the river bottom, near the castle moat

The french are so neat and tidy, so meticulous! I thought only the germanic tribes were like that! We took back roads and drove through village after village, each one so perfectly cared for, so historic. Here you can see the juxtaposition of three eras: medieval, eighteenth century and twentieth.

which era would YOU choose to live in?

Downtown Luxembourg was bustling; people were eating, drinking, shopping, listening to music. A street fair was bubbling over one of the plazas, with entertainment and a huge yard sale.

kinda like Farmer’s Market in SLO

Every building is historic and well-tended. There must be hordes of worker-ants crawling around every day inside and out, keeping it all so perfect for us lucky tourists.

a quiet plaza in Luxembourg

Part of the old castle fits like a jigsaw puzzle into the natural rock formations carved out by the river a few eons ago.

some good hidey-holes there

this gorgeous building caught my eye

I stole this photo of Luxembourg lit up at night:

looks prettier without the skyscrapers

We found more old rock walls on our way back to Paris. It was like the family field trip minus the kids; late afternoon and we were hungry. We took the turnoff  to Provins almost by accident: it looked big enough to have a restaurant that might still be open on a Sunday evening. As luck would have it, we drove into a medieval village le plus belle de tout. A middle-eastern café was still open and quite busy. While throwing down hummus, pita bread and baba ganoush, I couldn’t take my eyes off the church across the street, where a diverse clan of gargoyles guard ancient stone.

parts of it are more vintage than others

Eagle gargoyle

Big Bird gargoyle?

Old Woman Gargoyle with Message

Porky Pig?

I give up: dog-dragon-gargoyle?

I thought maybe some of them were griffins but Wikipedia says griffins have the body of a lion with an eagle head. Gargoyles, as you know, are there to protect churches from evil spirits and other wandering disembodied bad vibes.

a goat gargoyle

I thought THIS was a GRIFFIN. WHOA!! Please note!! CORRECTION!! Our good friend Adrian from San Luis Obispo, who happens to be British which of course makes him an expert on cathedral decor, writes:  “Incidentally, the creature you have at Font St. Michel is a wyvern, not a griffin, since it has the hind quarters of a serpent – preferably with a barbed tail.” Oh my gosh I had no idea!! Knowing this could come in real handy, especially if you time-travel to the middle ages, or have a nightmare where a wyvern is going to toast you if you don’t answer the riddle about how his tail came to be barbed.

detail of Font St. Michel, Paris, Latin Quarter

Wikipedia sure has some amazingly curious articles on a host of obscure topics! Our wyvern doesn’t have a dragon’s head, but a lion’s. In every other respect it is undoubtedly a wyvern. This oddity is “a frequent heraldic device on British coats of arms and flags… A golden wyvern is believed to have been the symbol of the ancient kingdom of Wessex.”

a golden wyvern

So why are griffins part lion and part eagle? “As the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle was the king of the birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. Griffins are known for guarding treasures and priceless possessions.”  I think I want one!

Provins church: note the older portions mixed with more recent

The arched doorway of the church in Provins reminds me of Notre Dame de París, but with way less fuss: broad strokes as opposed to devilish details. Compare it with the doorway of this catedral in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona:

Barrio Gótico

And for more comparison here’s the lady herself: Notre Dame de París:

Notre Dame is famous for her gargoyles and her hunchback, from the story by Victor Hugo

Once you see one gargoyle, you start seeing them everywhere! Here are some from that cathedral in Barcelona.

A few gargoyles to protect from Dark Side flybys

Little Provins turns out to be a big stop on the European Medieval circuit…. remember the Renaissance Faire? This is where it lives. Time stood still here in 1429, when Joan of Arc went to mass accompanied by Charles VII.

Wow! She is one of my favorite saints… that girl really rocked the boat — and paid the price. My favorite, unforgettable painting of her lives in NYC, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

St. Quiriace was built in 1160, partly destroyed by fire in 1662, and is pretty much out of service these days, you can’t even get a peek inside. But the vibes there are amazing; we loved it. Here is a statue of Joan of Arc in Paris, wearing solid gold armor. I can’t seem to find my photos of her; this is off the web:

correction: this one is MY photo of Joan of Arc!

St. Quiriace

Here I am at the doors:

yes, I go to church occasionally!

wabi-sabi detail

the watchtower next door

This is the old keep, or watchtower, sometimes called Caesar’s tower. We circled it.

Ben likes ancient rock walls too.

Provins is an amazing place, definitely the spot for all you history buffs. I couldn’t stop taking pix of the old houses, they are so beautiful!!

a busy corner in Provins

part of the old moat

How cool is that!!?!

a pretty country cottage

on the outside, a rustic cottage

On the inside… I’d be happy to decorate it for you!

the banker’s mansion?

City Hall or an official residence?

Provins is a living town, albeit a tourist town: how convenient. However it is located in the midst of some of the most beautiful countryside in the world! Its rolling green hills are like California’s wine country in spring. Just gorgeous. By the way, don’t get Provins, the town near Paris, mixed up with Provence, a wine-growing region in southern France, close to the Mediterranean coast: Marseilles, Aix-en-Provence, Cannes, Monaco. Not a bad spot to combine vacation and business: just ask James Bond!

Thanks to all of you for your emails, comments and likes. I really appreciate news from home. It helps me feel connected and not adrift somewhere in the universe…. sometimes I wake up and it takes a few moments to get oriented…. where the heck am I?

Next blog up: Tango Festival in Sitges, and fabulous Barcelona!

Au revoir, Paris!

Enchantment in Paris

Have you ever torn off the top of a paper sugar tube? A few minutes ago I popped a top, turned it upside down, and accidentally dropped the whole tube of sugar, which sank, bow first, straight down into my coffee. I thought I’d seen the last of it, but just then the white tube rose slowly from the depths and popped back up! Magical! I managed to grab the stern end before it sank again; I wiggled and shook it gently just above the dark sea, and the pretty white powder slid sweetly and uneventfully back into the dark chocolate-colored brew. Amazing!

Sugar magic

Tossing the empty wet paper into the trash, my heady sense of fait accompli spoke to my earthbound self with just enough ridiculous praise to send me over to my laptop, not quite ready but perhaps willing to set a few words in order, hoping they’ll sort of spill out on their own, like they do on the good days, when it’s all I can do to crank them out as fast as the thoughts pop into my head… bolstered, of course, by the last cup of coffee, which picked me up out of a scattering of random thoughts as I watched the grey skies turn even darker. Like the continuing off and on rainy weather, which perplexes even meterologically inclined Parisians, I trust my thoughts to arrive in a similar fashion: on again, off again, as random as a herd of cats and just as unpredictable. Which they do. Arrive, that is. Unexpectedly and from who knows where?

Belle Epoque bling

Ahh… you gotta love Paris! Life is good. That gorgeous mansion on the Champs Elysées, a block from the Arc de Triomphe, is a musée (museum), one of hundreds in Paris.

Pont Alexandre – in honor of Alexander the Great

The little poppies and the fragrant basil and parsley Ben planted on our balcony have been thriving on these spring — now summer — rains. Paris is a green oasis of busyness, the traffic kept in check by sidewalk cafés where time stands still… and no one ever brings the bill until you ask for it.

Les Deux Magots

Life imitates Art and vice versa

Ancient walls and monuments are a constant reminder of the fleeting life cycle of us two-leggeds. Beautiful fountains here and there are a tranquil pools of Rest & Relaxation in the midst of it all.

a fountain in the Luxembourg Gardens

close up

I love this twelfth century wall near St. Etienne’s and the Pantheon. The plaque credits Philippe Auguste for building the wall.

XII century soundproofing

To Great Men your Country Recognises You

Abundant greenery is balanced by ancient stone…

Musée Rodin

cool cobblestone passages…

no trash in sight, either

…the Feng Shui of timeless stone and flowing water.

Font St. Michel

Louvre & Carrousel Arch

Versailles

Versailles Gardens

Sleeping Beauty awakens!

While touring Versailles we accidentally woke up Sleeping Beauty! We chased her thru the gardens, then into the Royal Palace where we followed her from one glittering room to another, so dazzling they seemed make-believe!

please have a seat…

Definitely the turf of a hometown princess. She knew every secret door and passageway, each spiral staircase leading to dungeon, scullery, towers…

Who has the key to unlock the golden gates?

We finally pinned her down in the Medieval Library. The trick was to open a book and read her a story: she was a captive audience! After listening to a few French tales of bravery, duels and treachery to the Crown, she told us her sad tale of woe.

no discount: not an energy saving light fixture

“Please let me come with you,” she begged. “Release me from captivity and take me to the 21st century!” We were willing, but insisted she trade in her glass slippers for a pair of trademark jeans — French couture, of course. 17th century meets 21st!

Hall of Mirrors

Goldilocks vs Goldfinger?

Versailles vs. Versace? We promised her three squares and a calico kitten to cuddle. Her first meal in our reality — cheeseburger, ice cream and coke — was wolfed down faster than you could say Little Red Riding Hood.

a well-balanced meal

We offered her the grand tour, but she declined the double-decker sightseeing bus; modern petrol-sucking machines give her the heebie-jeebies. She’s quite environmentally conscientious for someone who’s been asleep for 300 years! Alas, the coach house was empty: our sturdy draft horses were sent up to summer pastures in the high country. So our pragmatic princess hoofed it around town with us in her flip-flops and never complained, not even under her breath — although we did catch a few eyeball rolls!

May I have one of each, please?

We marched along happily in our quest for the best chocolate in Paris. Christian Constant was our knight in shining armor, with his jasmine and orange blossom scented petit fours, leaving a trail of bittersweet implosions in our mouths…

Avant-garde chocolate eggs

We were taken on a close-your-eyes journey tracing the old chocolate trade route through India and Arabia — where essence of Rose, Vetiver, and Ylang-Ylang leads to Tahitian vanilla, Verbena, Corinthian raisins, Cassis, Frangipani, Saffron, Chinese ginger and Cardamom from Malabar.

chocolatier haute chic

We tasted dark chocolate (ganache), almond praline, ginger praline, almond-hazelnut paste, raspberry mousse, Sicilian tangerine, bitter chocolate truffle. Holy Zocomoly! [Christian Constant, 37, rue d’Assas, Paris 75006.]

A la Mére de Famille, 35, rue Faubourg – Montmartre

Sleeping Beauty was wide awake, finally, cooled down by chocolate ice cream, the only known antidote to chocolate fever. We followed her into Starbucks on the Champs Elysées.

tres elegant!

We thought it only right to warn Sleeping Beauty about the “other” Starbuck:

father of many but accountable to none

After a much-needed coffee break (the Princess likes Caramel Frappuccinos) she wanted to test drive a Maserati race simulator, only €20 for 5 minutes, but we were afraid of losing her in hyperspace. But we did catch a glimpse of some really cool vintage rides.

Peugot Formula One?

Nissan Topless Retro

Ben took his time scoping out all the Fiats, Lancias, Renaults, Peugots, Maseratis, Aston Martins, and Ferraris in that pricey neighborhood. Sorry, no Cadillas, BMWs, Audis or Volvos… not even an old Chevy pickup! Sleeping Beauty opted for a more affordable transportation alternative: a horseback medieval warrior who nearly swept her off her feet!. She only had to put in a few quarters! Can’t see her astride that horse? Duh! She’s wearing her invisibility cloak!

guardian of Notre Dame

But we suspect she’s really after the handsome Count of Tivoli, a dashing young fellow from a good family:

Prince Charming?

That might be a kiss worth waking up for!

Notre Dame in the sunshine

So we flew past Notre Dame, scorned by our own little Princess who has the real dirt on what notre mére had been up that night about seven hundred years ago: fiddling with poison apples and deadly corsets were just a few of her evil games. But the Principessa had other fish to fry. She wanted to stop by the Louvre to see all those glorious paintings and sculptures of her friends from a bygone era.

Marie Antoinette and her children

Louis XV ?

Was she there when Napoleon crowned Josephine empress?

Louis XIII: 1610 – 1643

Louis XIII went off to make war; his favorite sport cost him his life.

party time in the sculpture section: waiter!

playful Louvre Lion

view of the Louvre from the roof of the Musée d’Orsay

view of the Louvre from the Seine

Sleepy Cinderella loved the Louvre; but all that Napoleonic bling made her hungry as an 11-year old Princess can be. We took the Metro to another quarter, and stopped for refreshments.

look who’s wearing my chapeau Italienne!

could we sell this ad to Coca-Cola?

either she got a refill, or I mixed up the order…

Obviously, she runs on Coke, burgers and fries. She begged us for mac & cheese but we don’t go in for processed foods. We had to draw the line somewhere! Emergency rations only! Give a princess an excuse and she’ll clean out your fridge!

Back at home base — Camp Ocean Pines it ain’t — not Camp Roberts either, nor is it Big Sur, Tuolumne Meadows or Groovy Beach — Sleeping Beauty morphed into Cinderella when she saw what a mega-mess our camp cook can make. We prayed for delivery of a flock of the ubiquitous Café Scrounger Pigeons to clean up our kitchen, but we got Cinderella instead. No more dust bunnies under the couch, or my best marinara sauce splattered and petrifying on the white enamel cooktop!

Cinderella for reals!

We were beginning to worry she’d be putting a call in to the Royal Inquisitor (aka Mom!) if we let her continue the cleaning frenzy, so we took her to see Midnight in Paris. Sure enough, Sleepy Cinderella loved it! Miss mise-en-scéne’s metabolism finally slowed down to a crawl. We got her tucked in for the night, downloading photos to her Facebook till she passed out. Now that her story has gone viral due to her gazillion aunties, uncles, cousins, first cousins, and adorable little sister, she plans to make big bucks singing and dancing on the silver screen AFTER she finishes the Vampire Training Academy. No wonder she can’t sleep before midnight! File those nails and don’t forget your fangs!

Cinderella loves to dance so she accompanied us to a few milongas, including one on board the NixNox, tied up at Quai de la Gare (Mitterand). That gently rockin’n’rollin’ dance floor sure adds extra altitude and torque to those giros! We strolled along the quay after sundown… about 10 pm Paris time.

France doesn’t do daylight savings

red party boat

quay-side cafés and restaurants

Nix Nox, the Tango boat

milonga on the Nix Nox

how cool is this!

Two weeks is a very short time to visit a city as big as Paris. Mackinze was almost tireless… we were proud when we did manage to tire her out! She climbed all the way up the Eiffel Tower (we did too!), danced on the banks of the Seine, kept watch while we adorned Pont des Arts with locks and tobacco ties, and gave spare change to musicians playing on the Metro and the clarinet player outside the Musée d’Orsay. She also sat thru a few episodes of my favorite telenovela, La Reina del Sur. I got hooked on it in Buenos Aires. I can read basic body language in the vernacular but, unfortunately, simple French conversation is beyond me. However, statements like “You’re toast, cabrón” and “my Russian friend is going to teach you to sing like a canary” come across quite clearly no matter what language is spoken!

Kate del Castillo

Ben and I turned Cinderella into a lover of all-natural French yogurt with organic granola and Senegalese mango. She liked the spaghetti and meatballs confected by yours truly, just like nonna used to make, except I don’t stand at the stove for hours rolling them back and forth in the frying pan till they are perfectly browned and as spherical as cue balls. Next day we had meatball sandwiches with fresh mozzarella on baguettes. The only thing missing was the jalapeños! She liked to sneak out in the morning and raid the local boulangeries for our breakfast staples: croissants, chocolate croissants, almond croissants… croissants with black tea or coffee.

Editor’s note: this post is turning into a novel, will you please bring it to a close!?

Friends and Family in the café at Versailles

My response: Sure boss, but our little takoja is so much fun, and she is so photogenic!

Ben’s in this one and I’m taking the picture

Cinderella strolled the banks of the Seine:

the Left Bank: rive gauche

we had nice weather that day

ghost reflection at the Queen’s dressing table

mesmerized with a Coke

Besties visit the Tour Eiffel

Mackinze climbed the Eiffel Tower as well as endless stairs at the Louvre and other museums and palaces about town, not to mention up and down to the Metro, and the 108 steps up to the apartment at least twice a day — usually running up! Way to Go Girl!

Grandpa Ben, Mackinze and me from the top!

view of Sacre Coeur from the Eiffel Tower

at the Arc de Triomphe

Musée Rodin

with King Tut

Cinderella petting a calico cat

Boat and Duck Races at the Luxembourg Gardens

She loves ducks! Photo by Mackinze.

la Principessa con Pére Ben

Cinderella had to go back to Never-Never Land…. sob! and we are already missing her. I wonder how much change she could collect if she spent a few hours meeting and greeting people while passing the hat (her new French chapeau) outside a local Starbucks…. so she can buy herself a Caramel Frappuccino!  All you have to do is practice saying, “Bonjour! Café pour moi? Je suis tres jolie!” You can do it, girl!

at the Hotel Meurice, with attitude!

She might also look into dog-walking. You can make a lot of dough if you can handle a sizeable herd…. it’s not too soon to start saving up for college!

Arf! Arf! Bao Bao!

BE GOOD!!!

This post written especially for friends and family of Mackinze, Ben’s 11 year-old granddaughter and a shining star in all of our lives! All the rest of you are pretty darn special, too! Happy Fourth of July! Have a great summer!

Ciao from Paris!