Sunday, September 25, 2011

What I Learned in School

HDR is AMAZING!  For those of you that are not aware of this technique, it is called High Dynamic Range and it basically involves taking the same image in at least three different exposures, and combining them together.  The ability to do this allows for a photograph that is correctly exposed everywhere.  I am so upset that I didn’t learn about this before my trip to Europe.  Here are some examples of a couple of photos I took this afternoon.  You be the judge of what you like better…






I think the best picture is clear to see.  Watch out world, there are some amazing photographs coming your way!

Putting it all Together

Yesterday I received four large packages containing all the goods I needed to frame my prints.  Full of excitement, I spent most of the day cutting and framing.  My prints look soooo nice.  I feel such a sense of accomplishment by creating these products.  Yesterday I did my work on the kitchen table and on the floor.  Perhaps one day I will do this work in my own studio.  My art hangs in my bedroom on a long wall.  Perhaps one day my art will hang in galleries or possibly even museums as my ability grows.  It truly felt that something was coming together, and new opportunities are arising.
On September 10, there is an art fair in Plainfield.  I have been searching for local art fairs that are still accepting applications, and this is the only one that I have discovered.  The price is right and the timing is good.  Today, I will apply for this fair, and begin the list of things to do.  I have been thinking about this for awhile, so I have an idea, but there definitely is a lot.  I am essentially starting up a small business.  Here are some thoughts on what I would like/need to do:
-I want the booth to be set up so that samples are out for the prints, and below in drawers are the protected prints.  So many times people come through with their funnel cake fingers and get smudges on the mats.  I want everything to be in the best condition possible.  The good thing is school items are on sale, so maybe I can get some good organizers for a good price.
-I will sell framed prints, matted prints, cards, and framed word art.  Now that I cut my own mats, I can frame my word art.  I think I will have some generic words, and also come with a portfolio if people want to order custom made work.
-I need to figure out how complicated it is to start an account for a business name, I don’t want to have people make out checks to me.
-I have to get a tax ID and figure out all of the other things necessary.  I think I will wait to get a credit card machine for next year.  I’m not ready for the merchant ID and all of the other things I need to do.
Overall, I think that by working hard to prepare for this art fair will set me up for next summer.  I would like to participate in the Geneva, Madison, and other art fairs.  These can be challenging to be accepted into, so I need to try to gain a little experience.  I also need to work on my artist statement.  So much to do, but I have to try so that I can learn and be even more prepared for the next show.  More information will be coming later, and I hope you will come out to see my work.
If anyone has any information or recommendations for a first timer, please feel free to share!

A Future Home?

I have enjoyed going to Indianapolis ever since I was little.  It sounds strange that Indiana can host such an interesting place, but I absolutely love it.  I realized that one of the major draws that keeps my interest in the city is my family and their friends.  My aunt is such a great host and seems to bring the city alive.  For quite awhile I have considered relocating to this place that I like so much, and this trip has reaffirmed my beliefs about this city being a place I could call home.
My friend Crystal and I headed out early to make our way for the Hoosier State.  It was a fast drive down.  We jammed to some music and Crystal enjoyed making fun of my unintentional dance moves.  When we arrived, we were greeted with beautiful weather.  We decided to make the most of the bearable temperatures by going shopping in Broad Ripple.  We visited some boutiques and I bought a dress that can be worn 100 different ways (or something like that).  I like Broad Ripple a lot because it is artsy and very alive.  It is definitely one of the happening areas in the city.  After a little shopping we returned home to have delicious lasagna.  We enjoyed a good family meal and then Crystal I decided to go out on the town to see what was going on.

The biggest challenge was parking, but once we found a spot, we headed to Chumley’s for their Schooners.  The bouncer gave me a hard time and didn’t believe it was me that was photographed in my ID.  He asked for a second ID, but of course I didn’t have one, so he just let me in.  Someone said that I looked like I was 12, which I disagree with.  The bar was really busy and happening.  Some guys gave up their seats so we could sit at the bar while we sipped on our boat of a drink.  These glasses were not easy to hold onto, so I was thankful to have the bar to hold onto it for me.  We each did a shot, and made our way back home.
The next morning we woke up early.  We started at the Art Museum gardens since the weather was cooperating.  We walked around on some of the paths and ran under the sprinklers.  Some did not make it through without getting wet.  We also stopped at the greenhouse.  I found some baby tears that I really liked and they gave it to me for free, which is a great price.  This was another example of how friendly people are down there.

After the gardens, we drove to Zionsville.  I LOVE Zionsville.  It is a quaint town with antique shops and restaurants.  The houses are adorable with their extravagant gardens.  I found a house, but unfortunately it was not for sale.  I will definitely be considering this town as a future home.  I liked the atmosphere and I think I could incorporate my photography.  We stopped in a gallery and I asked the lady behind the desk more about how artists were able to display their work.  She said it was a co-op where artists pay a monthly fee and work once a week.  All profits are then entirely given to the artist.  I love this idea because it is reasonable and it would be an opportunity to get to know people.  As I was thinking about it more, I realized I would like to live in a town where people know me, maybe not everyone, but a descent amount.  When I go to get groceries, wine, or whatever goods I need, I want people to recognize me and vice versa.  I want to live in a community that I am motivated to give back to and truly be a part of.  Aurora is so large, it just seems impossible.  I just don’t feel invested in this place.  One of the back-roads antique stores we went to was owned by a man originally from Libertyville, IL.  He said it is a little bit of culture shock to come down there, but people are a little more relaxed and much more friendly and trusting.  I love the idea of that.
We ate at a cute bistro that served a wonderful lunch.  We sat outside under multicolored umbrellas while the wind kept the bugs away.  It was a relaxing afternoon.
After Zionsville, we went back home for a bit to take a nap and relax a little.  Once we were a little more rested, we returned to the Art Museum to see the artwork inside.  We saw Picasso, Monet, Cezanne, O’Keeffe, and more.  It was a nicely set up museum.  We did not spend too much time there because we had a party to get ready for.
The 60′s were making a return appearance at my aunt’s house for the evening.  She belongs to a group called “Lilies.”  They are friends that have known each other for a long time and their lives have intertwined throughout the years.  Most of them are turning 60 this year, and this party was the celebration of one of those birthdays.  The pictures came out, Harvey Wallbangers were served, music was playing, and the ladies remembered their times together.  They have seen a lot throughout the years: heartbreak, death, birth, and life changes, but the constant has been their friendship.  We had a great evening, and it was even equipped with special brownies (peanut butter was the special ingredient).
As I sat back and listened to the conversation, I was in awe of the experiences they have been through together.  I hope to reach that age and look back at my life with the same fulfillment.  Something else that was really interesting was the support from the group for my career change/move.  One of the friends even offered a duplex to rent.  Another friend, which I have known for quite a while and spent a good amount of time with even researched possible careers for me.  It just amazes me that they were so welcoming and  invested time to the idea.  I am considering several locations for a future home, but I think that the Indianapolis area would offer something very important, family.  Not that I would see them very often, but to know that I have support close by would truly make it feel like home.  Plus, I’m not that far away from my parents, so I really do think it could work.  This night was a such a great night.  I think I’m an old soul at heart (not that I am saying they are old, but I mean for my age).  I hope they don’t mind that I am posting this photograph…

The next morning we woke up with a mission, the winery.  We left around 9 and started the two hour trek to Southern Indiana.  It was a beautiful drive and as soon as I reached the winery, I remembered how much we enjoyed it last time.  We made our way to the tasting room first where we did the 5 S’s: see, swirl, smell, sip, and savor.  Our host took care of us with a few extra tastings.  The wine was fantastic.  At one point I looked over at my aunt and her friend.  I was so happy to see that they enjoyed something as much as we did.  It seemed like they were having a really good time.  My aunt couldn’t believe wine this good could be grown in Indiana.  After the tasting we grabbed some lunch, listened to some music, and walked around a little.  It was a very warm day, so we did not spend too much time outside.

After the winery, we took the back roads to Bloomington.  I asked Janey for an address in Bloomington so I could put it in my Garmin.  Unfortunately I heard Kent Street instead of 10th Street, so we had to do a little back-tracking.  I don’t think Crystal is going to let me live that one down.  We eventually made it.  We walked around the square some, where every building had missing posters for Lauren Spierer.  We cooled off and regenerated with some coffee at a local cafe.
Later that night we decided to catch a band at a local pub.  It was an Irish Folk band, and they were pretty good.  There were some funny songs mixed in with some sadder songs.  I was hoping to hear some that I knew, like “Whiskey in the Jar,” but it wasn’t meant to be.  It was a great way to end a great trip.
Every trip I go on, big or small, I feel like I learn something.  When I see my aunt, I see a similar life I would like to live.  She takes care of herself and I can’t imagine her having many regrets about her life.  I am so thankful to have such a great family, even if it is kind of small.

Return to Purpose

Now that I am done recapping my adventures abroad, I can return my focus to the original purpose of this blog, change.  I have been working on several things to continue my pursuit of a different career (eventually).  When I first started writing, I thought that this change could occur within the next year.  I do not think it will happen as instantaneously as I predicted.  As I have started thinking about what I want, I have realized that there is so much I don’t know.  I have opened a Pandora’s box of questions that I need to answer to better understand what will make me happy.  Some of these questions include:
Where do I want to live?
-I have thought a lot about Indianapolis lately.  I have loved it there since I was little and there are so many benefits.  I look forward to going there this weekend to go with the perspective of it possibly being a future home.
-I have heard so many great things about Charlotte, NC. I love the idea of the climate, living so close to a beach, and being on the East coast.  There are also many drawbacks, not to mention I’ve never actually been there (yet).
-I love Madison, WI, but it is just too cold there in the winter.  I want to move away from the extreme winters.
What kind of career do I want short term?
-If it is necessary for me to stay with teaching for awhile, what kind of teaching do I want to do?  Elementary, middle, adult, administrative, etc.
What kind of career do I want long term?
-Many ideas have been flowing on this topic.  I was evening considering opening a bed and breakfast.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a home that welcomes others in?  There would be dinners on the weekends, activities, and opportunities for travel advice.  I just love the idea of being able to converse with travelers and share experiences.  I would love to create a bed and breakfast in a place like Giverny.  I get so excited thinking about the dinners, decorating, and company.  I would definitely need my Aunt Lori to help me with setting everything up.  This idea is a big one, but worth investigating.
How can I incorporate helping others into my life?
-Ultimately, I need to feel like I am serving a purpose.
Which creative art should I pursue?
This last question is one that I am not sure about.  I imagined bringing photography and writing together, but they both require such a high level of expertise to truly be good at them.  I am trying to do both, but I am sure that I will have to choose eventually.  No matter what, they will always be at the very least, my hobbies.
My current photography adventures include gaining more experience and knowledge on the subject.  I am trying to improve my content along with removing myself from more automatic features.  I now am in complete control of iso, aperture, shutter speed, and focus for each image.  I am also learning quite a bit about photoshop to enhance my images even more.  At first I thought that this was wrong and almost cheating, but the more I thought about it, I realized that photographers are constantly making creative changes to their images whether it is changing the shutter speed to show blur, changing the aperture to simply focus on the foreground, or using filters to alter images in photoshop.   I also only shoot in RAW now to gain the absolute best quality in images.

Today I purchased a mat cutter and more premium quality photo paper so that I can begin to frame my images.  I want to be in complete control of photo taking, editing, printing, and framing.  My goal is to try to approach a local business in August to see if I can display my work and hold an exhibition night.  I do not know if I will be ready, but that is a goal.  I am excited to be able to continue to take photographs this summer, especially when I am in New Orleans.  I would like to expand beyond flowers and truly offer a variety of selections.
Lastly, I attended a lecture at Chicago Photography Center about stock photography.  I have been considering this as an option for income, but after the lecture I realized that it will be much more challenging than anticipated.  Any image of a place or person must have a release signed by the owner or person.  Getty Images is at severe risk for being sued, so they find that every image that endorses something must be accounted for.  I find this challenging because it really seems like a lot of work.  I also do not know that I want my images to be used for advertising.  They did say there was a need for archival photos, so I may look through older images to see if there is anything worthwhile.  So at this point, I think I will stick with fine art photography.
On the writing front, I am also trying to continue practicing and researching my area of interest.  Overall I would say that nonfiction is my preference.  I went to Barnes and Noble yesterday to look in writing magazines for contests.  I wrote down several addresses and will research more to begin entering writing contests.  There is one group that is looking for transparent travel writing.  They allow for up to three submissions, so I began one yesterday.  I am also going to begin a creative nonfiction piece about a specific time in my dad’s life.  He is being gracious enough to let me interview him and share his story.  Ideally I would like to be able to write about people’s experiences, so this provides me with great practice for the many steps necessary to write a piece like this.  I am a fan of the format of a book called “City of Falling Angels,” and would love to be able to compose a piece on a similar subject.
I am so fortunate to have this summer off and be able to devote my time to these endeavors.  I do not know how I will be able to continue this while teaching and taking 3 grad courses in one 10-week term.  I suppose I will try to accomplish as much as possible and set up a time during the weekends designated to do what I want.  I read a blog that someone posted about the “Sunday Blues.”  I scrunched my nose when I read it because it reminded me of the dread that comes on Sunday.  It almost begins on Saturday because I know that Sunday is coming and that inevitably leads to Monday.  I don’t want to lose my Sunday’s to anxiety anymore.  Maybe Sunday’s will be my writing and photography days.  It will take time to figure out what I am going to do with my career, so I might as well start taking steps to improving my happiness.  The good news is that for now I don’t have to even think about it.

Day 14: London's Last Moments

Today we went to the Tower of London.  As I walked through to see the Crown of Jewels, I couldn’t help feeling that this was wrong.  The monarch is royalty because of their divine right appointed by God.  I don’t actually believe this, but if they were, they break all of the rules.  I am not speaking of the modern royal family as much, but those that have lived a little more extravagantly with their many mistresses, wars, and greed.  Why do they need jewels and all of the money spent on them?  Why wouldn’t they be in the mindset that they are chosen for greater deeds?  Charity, kindness, helping others, basically, a more selfless life.  I struggled to enjoy the jewels knowing all that have suffered under the reign of these individuals.  It seems wrong.

After the Tower of London, we grabbed some lunch on our way to St. Paul’s.  This church was interesting because they had a nice exhibition on the being untouchable.  It was about this lower caste group called the Dalits.  They are from India and their stories are quite tragic.  They are plagued with leprosy and poverty.  One story was of a woman (technically girl) that was married at the age of 13.  Her husband did not take very good care of her, so she returned home.  Her family needed money, so they sold her for 120 pounds to be used as a prostitute.  In the caption, there was a question that asked if she would ever like to be married again.  She simply said that no one will want to marry her because no one will want someone that is used.  When I read about the mistreatment, I wish that I could simply remove them from their situation.  So much of it seems to be a matter of place.  If they were born somewhere else, this wouldn’t have happened.  I lit a candle to show my thoughts and prayers for these people.  Here is the website if you want to get a little more information.
While at the church the audio guide also mentioned that St. Paul’s was a gathering location for those that needed a place to pray and think during the 9/11 attacks.  A parishioner discusses opening the west gate and seeing over 10,000 people.  He commented on how they were all just heads in the large sea of people.  I think that provides interesting imagery.  Lost faces, disconnected.
After St. Paul’s, we journeyed to St. Pancras to see Platform 9 ¾.  After much searching, I was very disappointed to see the “platform.”  The wall was simply covered with a poster to represent the brick wall.  The cart had garbage in it and there was a woman smoking to the right and a man in the way to the left.  It was very disappointing.

We then felt the need to move along to get our boarding pass and pack.  We went to dinner at a nice restaurant in our area.  It always seemed to be busy when we passed it, so we thought it would be a good choice.  I had mussels in a white wine and cream sauce.  It was a great meal to end our stay in London.

Day 13: Windsor Bound

We began the day with a train ride to Windsor.  We scrambled around a little to figure out how to get the ticket and if we indeed could catch a train from Paddington Station to Windsor.  Once we figured it out, we boarded the train.  Just to be sure we were at the right platform, Carolyn asked the man sitting in front of us if the train went to Slough (which she pronounced “Sloane.”)  The guy gave her a hard time and said that it did travel to Slough (pronounced sl-owww).  He didn’t believe us that we could then get to Windsor from Slough.  Then he started asking all of these questions about getting to Windsor Castle and I was nervous that maybe this would not be as easy as I read it would be.  Luckily for us, he was wrong and it was super easy.
Windsor is another town that I would like to spend more time in.  We arrived at the time of the changing of the guard (coincidentally).  It was a misty day that was much cooler than the previous day and that mist later led to rain.  The weather seemed fitting for the location, so I did not mind a little precipitation.  While at Windsor Castle we walked through the chapel, state apartments, and the doll house.  I enjoyed Windsor Castle more than Versailles.  I don’t know if it is because it is less gaudy, or because it is used by the modern monarch.

We were planning on spending a good amount of the day in Windsor, but the weather did not really permit that.  We grabbed lunch at the Three Tuns while the rain poured down.
We then walked around a tiny bit and did some shopping.  The train ride home was long and delayed.  Apparently there were signal issues because of the weather.  Transportation had not been too reliable during our trip to London.
We did a little shopping on the way back.  There was a feather headband that I really liked, but I did not purchase it.  It looked nice on, and no one at home would have had it, but it was kind of expensive.  It reminded me of Kate Middleton (or Catherine as she prefers to be called now).
For dinner we went to an Indian restaurant called Spicy World Balti House.  I ordered Balti Chicken to eat.  It came with nan which was quite good.  The aroma in the restaurant was wonderful.  The amount of flavor in their dishes is remarkable.  Mine was spicy with flavors of cilantro and many other ingredients I did not recognize individually.  I am wishing that I could go there for dinner tonight as I reminisce about this meal.  I would definitely like to find a local restaurant.
We finished the evening off with the Traveler’s Inn.  Carolyn had a pitcher of Pimm’s while I had wine.  The lady questioned her drinking it by herself and seemed concerned.  The owner, however, questioned why she would order a pitcher of this when she can’t get drunk off of it.  I guess some people find it strange that someone might want to just drink something because they like the taste of it.  We finished our drinks and then went back to the hotel.  Before we went to bed, we watched the Bodyguard.  I don’t know why.

Day 12: Kew Gardens and the Phantom

This day was hot.  We took the train in the morning to Kew Gardens.  Kew is a quaint little town that is worthwhile to spend a little time in, especially lunch.  The gardens at Kew are huge.  I do not think I have been to such big gardens before.  I walked my way around the paths and found some treasures.  I saw some lupines, but they were not as impressive as the ones I saw in Ireland.  These were in isolation and much smaller.  I did enjoy the lilies.  You walk down to the water level which provides a nice perspective for the flowers.  At one point while at Kew, I thought I had seen a good portion of the flowers, but then I looked at the map and realized I was very wrong.  I only had seen maybe a fourth of the gardens.  So I got back up and tried to make my way through the rest.  If you go to these gardens, I would recommend being aware that you probably won’t see everything unless you are planning on staying all day.

We ate lunch at Kew where I had a really good Macaroni Cheese.  It was in a pottery dish and baked with delicious cheese and chives.  We took the train back to London and made our way to the theatre area.  I was not as excited about Picadilly Circus or Trafalgar Square as I thought I would be.  It was dirty and really crowded.  I knew it was going to be crowded, but it was hot and crowded.  We were going to go see Les Miserables, but the tickets were 85 pounds which was too much.  So we decided to see Phantom of the Opera.  While we waited for the show at Her Majesties Theatre, we grabbed a bite to eat and some drinks.  We found a place called Grace that had half price drinks for happy hour.  I just had rosemary garlic mozzarella bread for a snack.
The show was very good.  The singing was truly beautiful.  This is the first time I have seen Phantom.  I thought the story was okay, but it is not the strongest plot I have seen.  The ending is not very happy.  I couldn’t decide if I pitied the Phantom or if I even liked him.  I think the Beast is a more interesting character.  Theatre is a little different in London (or at least at this theatre).  People bring in their bottle of Pepsi and ice cream.  During intermission they sell literarily good ice cream.  I thought that was funny.

Day 11: Down in the War Rooms

At this point in the trip, I was really thinking about where I want to live.  I can’t believe that I was looking for a home in Chicago earlier this year.  After seeing more, this is what I currently have decided I would like.  I want a country estate with a nice cottage-like home with big windows.  I want a pond with a weeping willow at the edge of the pond.  As for animals, I would like ducks, chickens, a pig, a rooster, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, and dogs.  I want to have a nice garden with a veggie section and flowering section.  In my flower garden I would like hostas, gladiolas, poppies, lilies, and many others.  I want neither a suburban life nor a city life.  How can I afford this dream?  Not through just teaching.  Perhaps photography or writing.  I want a studio overlooking my grounds.  This is all what I think I want right now, who knows if I will ever know exactly what I want, but I think I am getting closer.
The morning began with a trip to the Churchill War Cabinet Rooms.  I enjoyed this place and the Churchill Museum.  There was this awesome expandable timeline that went into more depth as you touched it.  My favorite part of the experience down there was learning of Churchill’s paintings.  His hobby was to paint and he used it to fill his mind.  I’d like to further investigate the hobbies of great people and compose a book of short stories to show the need for escape that everyone experiences and how people achieve it.
From the war rooms we rushed our way to Buckingham Palace to catch the changing of the guard.  It is quite an extravaganza that happens every day.  I would never want to be a guard.  I wonder what they are like in person.
After the war rooms, we went to Hyde Park.  Speaker’s Corner was interesting.  We listened to two men.  One that spoke of Jesus and another that spoke of one army.  It seems like it is mostly an opportunity for people to argue and make fun of each other.
This was a very tiring day and we struggled to make our way through the British Museum.  I always feel like I will be excited to see something (like the Rosetta Stone), but then it ends up being kind of disappointing and much less exciting.  When many people are crowded around an encased artifact, it loses its appeal.  I would love to see many of the artifacts we saw in a recreated room that shows what it would have looked like where it actually would have been located.  For example, display mummies and canopic jars in a dark, stone room, appearing as if the mummification act is taking place.  Wouldn’t that be much more interesting than: here are canopic jars behind a case, here are mummies behind a case, etc.?  We did not spend much time here because of the exhaustion.

Day 10: Mmmm, Shrimp.

The Borough Market is amazing!  It reminds me of Pike Place Market in Seattle, but maybe a little bigger.  There were so many samples and delicious foods.  I bought a carrot cake, mishapes (how they spelled it) chocolates, lemon curd, and a balsamic/truffle glaze.  I tasted a wonderful truffle oil, but it seemed like a bit much.  On our way back to the train station, we came back through and I got a garlic shrimp wrap.  There was a long line, so it must have been well known.  The café is called Applebees, but definitely not the same as our chain here at home.  The wrap came with not only tasty shrimp, but also salad (or as we would call it, lettuce), crème fresh, and sweet chili sauce.  It was great; in fact, I think it was my favorite flavor of the trip.  I am so glad I waited in line.  Now I have a new recipe to try at home :) .  Hmm, maybe I’ll try to make that tomorrow…

After the Borough Market we made our way to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.  We had a very entertaining tour guide.  He was very informative and mixed in what I thought was hilarious, dry humor.  I cannot imagine the stench of the theatre at that time.  First, you are standing around with people that may not have bathed in 6 months.  Into the recipe you add the odor of urine and feces because of the lack of facilities (and who has time for that during the show anyway).  Another lovely scent to add to the mix would include garlic because it was believed that it helped ward off the plague.  Toss in some beer and rain, and you get eau de toilettes.  It did not smell anything like that while we were there.
We went to the Tate Modern next.  I was not a major fan overall.  The artwork did not seem comparable to some of the great works we saw previously, and the building was not very appealing with its cold industrial appearance.

We crossed the Millennium Bridge to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral, but there was an annual service, so we were not permitted in.

(PS, not dementors, Death eaters.)
We thought we’d try to see the London Eye with our newly freed time.  The cost to ride the eye was 34 pounds, so we opted to simply view the eye from ground level.  I was pretty excited about an angle I got of the eye and also a full viewing of Parliament just across the Thames.  As a side note, I still have to consciously sound out Thames when I see it.  It is not pronounced phonetically, but rather more like “tems.”

Our next item on the list was Westminster Abbey.  There were no photos allowed inside, so I was pretty disappointed.  Carolyn told me this before going, but I think my defense mechanisms were in the denial stage.  I watched the royal wedding and was so excited to get inside and see all of the familiar sites, and most importantly, take pictures of them.  I have to admit that it did not look as glamorous as it appeared for the wedding.  It is so disappointing to experience these places with so many people.  I would love a more intimate viewing.  I did see Newton and Darwin’s tombs.  I thought it was so interesting that the man who came up with the Theory of Evolution is buried in a famous church.  It was great to see the two come together.

I had a really nice time and St. James Park this night.  It was so relaxing and it felt like I was away from the city for a moment.  I enjoyed watching the ducks, geese, squirrels, and other animals.  I enjoy narrating their actions.  It was a full day, and this was a perfect way to end it.

Day 9: England in One Day

It was a long night in our little room.  The day started early with our England in 1 Day Trip.  Quite a tour, huh?  Our tour started with a two hour drive to Stonehenge.  It was more compact than I thought.  The stones were about as tall as I imagined, but they were closer together.  It is interesting to ponder how they moved the stones and why they did.  It was mentioned that at that time, religion and science was not seen as something so separate.  It is a shame that it is today.

After Stonehenge, we took an hour drive to Bath.  I really liked Bath.  It was a much larger town that I expected.  We tried to find Cornish Pasties after Barry gave us directions, but we had a really hard time following directions on this trip.  So we just picked up some quick sandwiches to curve the hunger.  Next, we were on our way to the Roman Baths.  This would be a great place to visit without a crowd.  There was this obnoxious kid playing his video game with the music audible.  I’m sure he got a lot out of the experience.  He probably got to the next level.  Anyway, we toured the baths and saw the hot water spring.  I downed a glass of the spa water.  It contains 43 minerals and is served at a temperature of 115 degrees Fahrenheit.  It had a similar metallic taste to blood.  It is supposed to have healing powers though, so maybe it will be helpful.

We then took a two hour trip to Stratford.  We had a champagne reception with short skits.  We walked through the birthplace and gardens.  There was a tree that I really liked.  The guide told us that all of the plants and flowers are from Shakespeare’s stories, except for that tree.  I think it is funny that is the one I like the most.  I thought it was interesting that back then they used to sleep upright.  They did this for two reasons.  One is that they thought that death would take you if you were lying down because he would think you are dead.  Two, there was so much smoke in the air; it would be difficult to breathe.  The curator also said that boys dressed as girls at a young age because the plague “demon” would skip over innocent girls.  Quite a bit of superstition during this time period.  I guess I can understand it though.  With so much death and disease spreading, I think we try to find reasoning in what is happening and why.  We also learned that leather was softened with feces (called tanning).  I hope they have found new methods for our current leather.  We returned home around 8 and did not do much for the rest of that night.

Day 8: A Backwards Arrival

This morning started with the departure of Lori and Linda.  I was sad to see them leave and not continue our journey together.  Carolyn and I did some packing, cleaning, and I cooked breakfast.  Carolyn wasn’t feeling very well, so she stayed in while I ventured out for my last couple of hours in Paris.  I wanted to see the Luxembourg Gardens, so I headed down that way.  I saw the Medici fountain that I wanted to see again.  I realized where everyone in Paris jogs.  You never see anyone jogging downtown, and it is because they all must go to the gardens.  It was a nice morning to get out on my own.  I enjoy those moments.

After the gardens I returned to the metro. I finally got my pictures in the photo machine like Amelie.  I mailed some postcards and stopped one last time at our grocer.  I picked up some Orangina since I saw so many ads for it throughout the trip.  It is kind of like a mixture of Sunkist and Tang.
I came back to the apartment to get Carolyn and we went to the Deportation Memorial on the backside of Notre Dame.  I think I got a little more out of it this time because I knew what to expect.  I expected something larger the first time, so I didn’t fully get it when I went.  This time I understood the symbolism in the simplicity.  You walk down into the memorial and you are blocked of the views of the city by tall, plain walls.  If you continue forward, there are dark, sharp pointers.  There is a tiny window at the base that opens to the river.  If you continue inside, 200,000 tiny lights glow before you to represent the 200,000 people that were deported from France.  It is silent, dark, and sets a tone for reflection.
We then went back to grab our things and head towards the train station.  We had entertainment on our line to the station.  These two guys started rapping and dancing by flipping and moving their heads in and out.  They rapped in French to a Snoop Dogg song.  The other passengers didn’t seem too thrilled, but then again, the song was about smoking weed everyday.
I am glad we arrived early to the station.  We had to go through quite a bit to get on the eurostar.  I sat next to a woman who was worried about her luggage.  The ride was relaxing as I read “A Moveable Feast” and napped.  I definitely recommend this form of travel around Europe.
I came into London backwards because of my seating arrangement.  Arriving in London was more of a challenge than we expected.  Our underground station was closed for an emergency, so we had to walk to the nearest station (not that we knew where that was at).  After lugging our stuff to another station, we were on.  I was really glad we ordered our Oyster Cards ahead of time.  It made this tiring situation a little less tiring.  We got off at Victoria Station and dropped our things off to go back out for dinner.  We ate at the Traveler’s Tavern just down the road.  I enjoyed Bangers and Mash with a pitcher of Pimms.  My biceps were feeling the work from the day.
Later we made our way to Harrods.  I absolutely loved the food shops downstairs.  I bought quite a bit, including a bottle of wine that I enjoyed throughout our time in London.  There were sweets, meats, and many other treats to enjoy.  Any foodie would love it.

Day 7: A Moveable Feast

The morning was very wet and chilly.  The plan was to go to the Luxembourg Gardens, but the weather did not seem appropriate.  Carolyn and I decided to head up to Montmartre instead.  We found some shops and I got some unique souvenirs.  We also went into Sacre Coeur.  Unfortunately we could not take any pictures.  It was calming inside.  It was interesting to think about all of the activity just outside the walls.  We sat down for a few minutes and my mind wandered.  I felt something that I have never felt before in a church, peace.
After that we went to some fabric shops, but I didn’t find anything.  I was so happy to return to my favorite store in Montmartre.  I have had dreams about returning to that store, and now I feel more complete.  I love having little things in my home that remind me of my travels.
While we were up at Montmartre, we stopped at the cafe I’ve seen in so many pictures and paintings.  Le Consulat served coffees, crepes, and other dishes.  I got un cafe and a rum crepe.  I thought the crepe would be more like a sweet liquor flavor, but instead it was purely a rum flavor.  It even burned on the tongue.  I took a bite, and that was all I had.

We then made our way down to Pigalle.  We saw the sex shops with all their gadgets and went down to Moulin Rouge.  I got some different pictures of the posters at the Moulin Rouge, so that was exciting.  We decided to make our way around to the gift shop, and as we did, I saw Le Deux Moulins, the restaurant where Amelie worked.  It looked just like it did in the film.  I saw where she wrote on the glass, right behind the guy, and where she turned into a puddle after he left.

After Pigalle, we took the metro to return to Shakespeare and Company.  We went the previous night, but it was closed early due to the music festival.  I absolutely loved Shakespeare and Company.  I love going to places full of history.  I tried to imagine Hemingway borrowing money from Sylvia at the desk or James Joyce coming in to exchange books.  There were many Americans and English speakers.  The shop was small and packed with books.  There was a piano player upstairs.  I took a picture and realized as I walked back downstairs that I wasn’t supposed to take photographs up there.  Oh well.  Someday I will probably be cursed for taking pictures where I’m not supposed to.

I bought “A Moveable Feast,” a journal, and a tote.  I was so excited when she asked if I wanted the stamp.  I have seen it in so many movies and I have read about the store.  Once I finished with my purchases, I sat outside to wait for Carolyn.  I found a bench and started reading “A Moveable Feast” in the sunshine.  There was an American talking to an Irishman.  He seemed kind of arrogant, but he kept moving his legs back and forth nervously, so maybe he lacked in self-confidence.
After we finished at the store, we returned home.  We grabbed dinner at a nice brasserie where I had escargot on my last night in Paris.  My aunt kept trying to take a picture of some guys across the way, but the motorcycles were in the way.  We walked around the Marais for a little while, grabbed glace (probably the best of the trip), and returned home to pack.

Day 6: Day of Dead and Music

The day began with the dead.  We decided to start off at Pere Lachaise cemetery.  I love how the tombs are above ground.  I saw so many unique cherubs and other interesting figures.  While at the cemetery we saw Oscar Wilde, Moliere, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein, and Percy who deciphered the hieroglyphics from the Rosetta Stone.  Oscar’s was probably the most grand.  There were many kisses and writings.  After seeing how many adore him, I think I should check out some of his writings.  I guess he died of an ear infection.
Moliere’s story was interesting.  Apparently many thought he was a hypochondriac and he faked a cough which led to an actual cough.  I guess his death was similar to that of Nicole Kidman’s character in Moulin Rouge.
After the cemetery, we went to a café in the neighborhood.  We were supposed to pick up food from Rue Cler and have a picnic on the Champs de Mars, but we were so hungry we decided to eat.  I ordered Tartare de Beouf.  I thought it would be seasoned and in some sort of acid like lemon juice, but it was not.  It came with some items on the side like onions, parsley, capers, and relish.  It also had a raw egg cracked over the top.  I put some worcestershire sauce on it, but only ate about a ¼ of the meat.  The frites were delicious though.  When I went to the bathroom I saw a roach on the floor, so I got a little nervous about the cleanliness.  Our garcon was extremely nice and offered to cook the meat for me.  He probably thought I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.  How can so many say the French are rude when they are so accommodating?
From there we got back on the metro and headed towards the Petite Palais.  There was a photography exhibition with a photograph that I really liked.  It was a woman on top of a mountain topless, with her back faced towards the camera and her arms reaching high in the air.  It looked very liberating.

After the Petite Palais, we went to Champs de Mars.  The merchants were being chased by a police officer on a bike.  You could hear them coming because of their jangling Eiffel Towers.  We then got on the batobus.  We got off at Jardin de Plantes to see Canal St. Martin.  I think I saw where Amelie skipped stones, but we did not see where she dropped the fish in the water.
We then took the metro back home to have leftovers for dinner.  After dinner we went back out and rode the batobus.  It was a beautiful evening and so many people were out because it was the night of the international fete de la musique.  There were many friends and couples sitting out on the quai.  The Parisians were enjoying their beautiful city filled with music, warmth, and the smell of wine.  We got off at Notre Dame and stopped to listen to some music.  The singer was a funky dancer.  Linda was ready to go home, so we dropped her off and returned to enjoy the music of the night.  We saw quite a variety of acts.  The city was definitely alive.

Day 5: An Awakening

This day was a day mixed with highs and lows.  The agenda included a morning at Marche Aux Puces.  I liked this market last time because I was able to pick up cute and reasonably priced posters and jewelry.  When we arrived, many stalls were not open and those that were, weren’t impressive.  Many of the workers said hello and asked where I was from.  One guy even said that he liked my face.  I appreciate the compliments.
Not impressed with the market, we left for Montmartre.  Carolyn and I went ahead of my aunts and put our ticket in.  We went to the stairs on the right and waited for them to come down to the tunnel.  We waited, but they never came.  They went down a different tunnel that led to the same location.  Since we were ahead of them, they thought we were already on the metro, so they got on and went ahead.  We waited at our end stop, but never saw them.  We decided to go back to the apartment to see if they were there, but they weren’t.  We then grabbed lunch and headed toward Rue de Rivoli to pick up our tour to Giverny.  It was a great moment when we were once again reunited and could continue our journey together.
The tour was my favorite moment of the trip.  As soon as we walked into the gardens, I was engrossed.  There were so many flowers, in such perfect condition.  I took many, many photographs. I absolutely loved his home as well.  It is a country style home with beautiful windows overseeing the gardens.  I realized this is the type of place I want to live in.  I like peace most of the time, and when I want to socialize, I can go into the city.  It doesn’t need to be nearly that grand of scale, but the idea is nice.  I think I either have turned into a country girl, or I didn’t really know who I was before.  I guess that is why I travel.

The lily pond was amazing as well.  I enjoyed the weeping willows and the fake wisteria blooms.
When I finished dinner down by our apartment (I had lasagna), we went to the supermarket while Lori came back up.  When we walked in, Lori said to me, “here, talk to Becky, there has been an accident with mom.”  I was so confused.  I got on the phone and realized my mom was in a car accident involving her hitting a dear at about 65 mph.  The worries began to rush through my head.  I could only imagine how shook up she was about the deer, her car, and herself.  When I got on the phone with her she sounded excited about getting a new car.  It was another moment that reminded me of the shortness of life and the need to appreciate everything and everyone around me.

Day 4: Through the Eyes of Gargoyles

This day was interesting.  We went to Versailles planning on being able to bypass the line because of the Museum Pass, but this did not happen.  So we waited in line, and waited, and waited.  I thought Versailles was okay, but not exactly what I prefer to see.  I didn’t even want to see it last time I was in Paris.  It is difficult for me to see beauty in greed.  But I am also ashamed to admit that I like to be able to cross things off my to-do list.  I was thinking that day that a three week trip (what I am thinking about for next year) may be challenging.  I wear myself down because I want to see and do it all.  I am realizing now how much I would like to visit the countryside of Europe like Tuscany and Provence.  I think these locations would offer a balance between relaxation and visiting sites.
After moving our way through the masses, we decided to eat lunch.  We went to a restaurant in the Chateau called Angelina’s.  I accidentally said “muy bien” to the hostess when trying to say thank you.  I hit Carolyn and was like dope, I just spoke Spanish.  We ordered a rose wine and Croque Monsier.  The sandwich was a piece of art with all of its glorious cheese.
Rather than seeing the gardens, we decided to go back to catch the Rodin Museum and Notre Dame Tower.  The flowers in the Rodin were not as nice as the previous time that I attended.  I had some fun playing with the angles of some of his sculptures like “The Kiss” when trying to photograph.  I really like that museum because of the balance of art and nature.
Next we went to Notre Dame to climb the 400 steps to get to the top.  We had to wait for about 45 minutes, but it wasn’t that bad.  We had glace (tiramisu), which was a great idea that Carolyn had.  There was also some entertainment with a guy in a mask who would surprise others on the street.  It was funny at the time, but I suppose if I was one of those people I would have probably gotten a little physical if I thought someone was messing with me.  I enjoyed the tower at Notre Dame and I think it may be one of the best views of the city, I would argue better than the view from the Eiffel Tower.  We could see so much and we weren’t too high up where you could barely see the well-known structures.  At the time there was a Spanish manifest going on and police were taking people to jail by the bus loads.
The gargoyles were neat with different expressions.  My favorite one was a gargoyle resting his head on his hands.  He seemed overwhelmed with the task of watching over the city.  Or perhaps he was disappointed that he was stuck up there while the rest of the city was lively below.  My calves hurt so much from climbing the stairs.  There was an older lady in front of us who would take little breaks and I was so thankful for that.  Going down was dizzying in the spiral staircase.

For dinner we fixed steaks and went out to do a little shopping and sit at the quai.  I wore my blue scarf that I bought the previous day.  I felt Parisian for a moment in my attire and relaxed for a moment on the Seine.

Day 3: In the Presence of Talent

While writing this, I was taking a break from the exciting day to put my feet up and gaze out the window at our Parisian apartment.  I heard bells and a man and woman talking and laughing back and forth.  There are so many sounds blended together.  I can see how this city is a muse to so many, it is definitely conducive to creativity.
What an exciting day it had been.  The morning started off rough.  I woke up at 6 (with only a few hours of sleep).  My eyes burned and were red.  It is almost as if my eyes cannot handle taking in all there is to see in this unearthly city.  So, I decided to go back to bed and I slept till 9:30.  So much for Versailles.  Everyone seemed tired this morning.  It seems that the second night is where the struggle for adjustment comes in.  I remember the last time we were in Paris, our second night led into a Sunday and we had planned to wake up early to attend mass at Sacre Coeur.  That morning, we woke up at 10:30 and ended up catching a portion of the mass at Notre Dame.
We decided to save Versailles for tomorrow rather than today.  Instead, we thought we would still activate our museum pass and start the museums.
We made our way to Place de Concorde.  For a place notable for such horrible acts, it was beautiful.  The clouds were gorgeous as we were in between bouts of rain.  It is interesting to step out of this metro stop because you have no idea that you are about to be opened up to what feels like the center of the city.  There are cars buzzing by everywhere and you become aware of beautiful sights such as the Egyptian Obelisk, Tuilleries Gardens, and the fountains.
After snapping some shots of the area, we crossed the road to the Tuilleries Gardens.  Our next stop was L’Orangerie.  I am in love with this place.  The focus is on impressionists.  You begin by walking into a room full of Monet.  The lights brighten and dim, perhaps to show the different times of day for Monet’s paintings.  As you circle the room, the paintings begin during the morning and extend throughout the day until you reach sunset.  There was also music playing softly.  We saw amazing paintings by Monet, Renoir, and many others.  Here I got the idea to take pictures of parts of paintings rather than the whole thing.  I always take pictures of the whole painting, and then when I get home I don’t do anything with it.  I figured that if I focused in on my favorite aspect that perhaps I might enjoy it more.  I was extremely excited to see that they had a special exhibition on Gino Severini.  Last year in Venice I bought his “Sea Dancer” at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum.  Walking into the exhibit, I felt that I was in the wrong place because there were paintings of people and landscapes, which is not the style I was familiar with.  It turned out that one of his dear friends passed away, and after that he began to associate with other artists.  It was amazing to see how his artwork had changed after his friend passed.  So much in our lives depends on outside influences.  They all seem to be purposeful.  I would like to look up more on Severini.  When I come back to Paris, I want to return to L’Orangerie.
After the museum, something really exciting happened.  The rain had started again, so we tried to find a place to eat in a hurry.  The first place did not pan out because it was full.  We went to the restaurant across the path.  There still were not any seats inside, but it was covered better.  So we sat down.  The guy said it would only be 5 minutes to get inside.  That time came and went, so we stayed outside.  Lori and I were talking about the weather when Carolyn’s face changed.  We looked to find that Gabriel Byrne had walked in.  The paparazzi in me instinctively grabbed my camera and tried to shoot as many pictures as possible without being obnoxious.  He grabbed a table near us and sat down.  A lady joined him while he had coffee and smoked a cigarette.  I got up a couple of times to try to sneak in pictures.  I walked around the building and gardens to try to get a better view as he read the newspaper under the sun.  I also managed to eat during this excitement.  I ordered a hot dog with Fromage.  Parisians even make hot dogs sophisticated.

After lunch we walked to Musee D’Orsay.  I found this museum to be okay, but it was so crowded that I felt I couldn’t really enjoy it.  At one point Carolyn and I were walking in the main area to find my aunt Linda meditating amidst the crowd.  I think she had the right idea, I could have used some calming.  I was not allowed to take pictures and got in trouble for trying.  I was trying to take a photograph of the Van Gogh when a man (very aggressive) walks up and asks to see.  He made me delete my pictures and put the camera away.  He was quite loud and everyone was watching.  I was very red with embarrassment.  I was kind of turned off at that moment even though I know it was my own fault.  At that moment I still felt entitled to be able to take pictures.  After all, the Louvre let me.
After the D’Orsay Museum, we walked back to the apartment and were rained on once again.  We planned to rest and then go back out to go up to Notre Dame.  The plan did not work though because Ricky (Rick Steves) was wrong about the late hours on Saturday.  So we had chicken for dinner and went out to the stores which were closed.  It was a low key night.  It is weird that I began to miss home.  The one person I wanted to tell everything to was not there and not within a phones reach.

Day 2: Together Once Again

I woke up this morning before 6.  The sound of hacking garbage men woke me up.  We were waiting for Linda to arrive that day.  I hoped she would be feeling well when she came in.  I know how I feel after a normal flight, but I can’t imagine how strenuous it would be to stay in the airport overnight.
Carolyn and I got a pretty early start while Lori waited for Linda.  We decided to go to the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees.  The Arc was pretty bare, so it was nice to actually be able to see it.  The last time I was there it was so crowded with people.  The only problem with the scarcity is that many stores were not open on the Champs Elysees, not that I was planning to purchase anything.  We did not spend too much time at these places.  There are some sights that once they have been seen, that is enough.
When I came back, Linda still had not arrived.  I decided to go try to find her.  I did not have any luck.  It was a great opportunity to watch the bustle of the city.  On my way back I walked through Notre Dame and I heard a familiar voice.  I looked over and saw a camera crew.  At first I thought it was Craig Ferguson, and after looking up more online later, it turned out to be him.  He was talking about the bells, the bells, the bells, the damn bells of Notre Dame.

Once I got back to the apartment, I found that everyone had been waiting for me (oops).  We went to the Louvre for lunch.  It was okay, but I prefer to eat more authentically while here.  Carolyn and I decided to stay at the Louvre and tour through.  The Louvre was fine.  Since I had already seen it, it wasn’t as special.  It just feels so exhausting.  I was really excited to see all of the Da Vinci’s and Botticelli and the many other masterpieces my first time.  I was excited to see the Vermeer’s this time, but they were so tiny.
Later that night we went up to Montmartre to go to Au Lapin Agile.  This place is full of history when it comes to its previous customers.  Artists such as Renoir and Lautrec used to frequent this location.

I truly enjoyed the cabaret.  There were several performances.  Sometimes they would sing together and sometimes separately.  Everyone sang along and clapped.  The room had a red glow, it definitely added to the ambiance of the place.  The older piano guy kept making eyes at the Asian ladies sitting next to me.  The drink we received with the price was brandy with cherries.  It only added to the atmosphere of the place.  I was able to record the whole event which was pretty cool.
At this point in the trip, I couldn’t help but think that I was seeing so many things that I knew were famous, but I didn’t know much about it or why it was famous.  Fortunately, I can always go back and read more later on.  Sometimes travel can be that spark that creates future interest.

Day 1: The Arrival

Our flight actually left on June 15, but our arrival into Paris was on June 16.  Everything went very well for us to my relief.  I was very concerned about leading this trip and everything working out.  I could not have asked for more success.  The 7 hour flight to Dublin seemed to go  by so fast.  I watched a movie called Blue Valentine that was pretty good, but I need to learn to not watch sad movies on the plane.  Sleep was the most challenging aspect of this venture.  I slept about 1 hour on that flight and about 10 minutes on the next.  Taking the shuttle from our terminal could not have gone smoother.  It arrived just as we did.  The RER even went smoothly, although I was panicking during the ride because I had never done it before.
Arriving at our apartment was a little exhausting.  It is unfortunate that the first few moments in this wonderful city are not really enjoyed because you are just trying to get to your destination.  The lugging of your stuff up the flights of stairs can be exhausting, even with an adrenaline rush.  The senses are bombarded with overload as you approach a view above the metro.  Your eyes are trying to adjust to the new light above the tunnel and once they do, you are surrounded by the life of the city.  Across the way we saw Notre Dame which was a beautiful site to see because you get the sense that you are actually there, in Paris.  You are overwhelmed with the traffic, people, and construction.  Your ears even need a moment to adjust to the movement and flow of the city.  The smells are changing between what is cooking at the nearest bistro along with the exhaust from the vehicles.  And of course your body is confused about whether it should be weak because of the physical activity you are participating in, but it just keeps moving forward.  We entered the code to get into our apartment, then a man came out to provide us with the means to get upstairs which was very helpful.  Unfortunately we arrived to find that Linda was not there.  Her flight was cancelled, so she would be joining us the following day.  This hasn’t happened to her in 15 years, so that is pretty good luck.  Nonetheless, it was too bad we were not all united for our first night in Paris.
Upon arrival, we all confessed our hunger.  After pondering over a couple of options, we made a decision.  We ate outside as we enjoyed accordion music.  The men at the restaurant seemed to enjoy teasing us, with one even sneaking into our photograph in the background.  I decided it was a necessity to order escargot on my first day and be welcomed into the city the right way.  We then came back to the apartment after no success of finding a grocery.
After a much needed nap, Carolyn and I went out to find groceries for a second attempt.  I felt we needed to go down and to the right, and we found it right away.  Carolyn and I got some basics, and then brought them back so we could go explore again.
We decided to go up to Montmartre.  I figured she might as well see the best view of the city her first night.  The 18th arroindesmont is just as beautiful as I remembered (minus the merchants).  I struggled to find Sacre Coeur which was frustrating because that seemed to be our beacon last time.  Once there, we hung out on the steps for a brief while.  One group was playing No Woman No Cry.  It was lively place as the night settled on the city.   We then decided to try to return home.  Everything worked fine until we got to our metro stop.  We took a wrong turn and ended up seeing the Eiffel Tower.
My favorite moment that night was on our way to Montmartre.  At Notre Dame we heard fun, and decided to check it out.  There was a large group of men and women dressed in white, sitting opposite of each other.  They were savoring on some delicious foods such as cheeses, spreads, breads, and fine meats.  Champagne corks were flying in the air like fireworks.  Everyone was cheerful and relaxed from the wine.  As we continued to walk around we heard an occasional cheers and the clinking of wine glasses.  We never figured out what was going on, but I would have loved to participate.  As we returned home later that night, the party was still going and I couldn’t help but wonder what these people would be like at work the next day.  They know how to live.  Please read below for update.

While I was on Facebook, I saw a post by Sur La Table, here is what the article read:

How 10,000 People Keep a Secret

THERE are picnics, and then there are picnics.
Three weeks ago, in the golden light of an early-summer evening, thousands of Parisians dressed entirely in white converged on two of the city’s most picturesque locations — 4,400 of them in the plaza at the cathedral of Notre Dame; 6,200 in a courtyard of the Louvre — for a feast that was neither advertised nor publicly heralded. They had brought along not only their own epicurean repasts but also their own tables, chairs, glasses, silver and napery.
At midnight, after dining and dancing, they packed up their dishes, stowed their empty Champagne bottles in trash bags brought for that purpose, stooped to pick up their cigarette butts from the cobbles and departed. The landmarks were left immaculate, with no traces of the revelry of the previous three hours.
This annual event, called the Dîner en Blanc — the “dinner in white” — is like a gustatory Brigadoon, equal parts mystery, anachronism and caprice. Now attended by thousands at some of the best-known Parisian spaces, it began humbly in 1988. That year, François Pasquier, now 67, returned to Paris after a few years abroad and held a dinner party to reconnect with friends. So many wanted to come that he asked them to convene at the Bois de Boulogne and to dress in white, so they could find each other.
But while in certain circles in Paris, everybody knows about the Dîner, many Parisians have never heard of it. And despite the precision that goes into its planning, it retains an air of surprise.
For the first time, New York will have its own Dîner en Blanc, on Aug. 25, rain or shine. A thousand people — half invited, the others drawn from an online waiting list ( — will participate in this refined flash-mob feast, at an as-yet undisclosed location in Manhattan.
The New York event is being spearheaded by Mr. Pasquier’s son, Aymeric, who lives in Montreal, where he inaugurated the Canadian version of the Dîner en Blanc in 2009. But can brawny Manhattan, with skyscrapers from top to bottom, innumerable regulations and a dearth of public spaces on a Parisian scale, possibly approximate the romance of the French pique-nique? The New York organizers, Daniel Laporte and Alexandra Simoes, are hopeful.
“The emphasis is on spontaneity, but we are making absolutely sure to be completely in accordance with all city rules,” said Ms. Simoes, an elementary school director at the Lyceum Kennedy, who volunteered for the Dîner organizing job. “But we don’t want the guests to be impacted by our concerns. The guests should only be concerned about the dress code, and the tables they’ll carry, and what kind of food they will prepare.”
Mr. Laporte, a Canadian-born architect whom Aymeric Pasquier asked to participate, said: “Everything is extremely carefully organized, because to seat a thousand people at the same moment you need a lot of planning. But the most important thing is for everyone to have the best memory of the night.”
In New York, as in Montreal, the Dîner en Blanc is being conducted openly, facilitated by Facebook and Twitter and other online aids, and coordinated with municipal authorities. But in Paris, despite the tacit approval of government officials, the Dîner is private — a massive demonstration of the power of word of mouth, and the strength of social connections. The guest list is made up entirely of friends, and friends of friends. And despite the dinner’s vast and visible attendance, it has remained discreetly under the radar. Paris is still a class-stratified society — “It’s horizontal, whereas Montreal is vertical,” Aymeric Pasquier explained — so unwritten rules of privilege have allowed secrecy to surround the event. Nobody is sure who decides, year in, year out, which people are invited to create tables for the evening.
François Pasquier calls the party-list formation a “pyramide amicale,” a friendly pyramid; trusted friends invite their own trusted friends. The event’s exclusivity was evident just before the Dîner en Blanc in Paris on June 16. As I hurried with my dinner companions along a bridge to Notre Dame last month, passersby stopped us.
“What’s going on?” a man asked. “Haven’t you heard?” joked my friend Aristide Luneau (who had invited me). “It’s the end of the world.”
One tourist asked, “Do they do this every night?” If only.
At 8 o’clock, clusters of diners emerged from the Metro or chartered buses to gather at rallying points, where they had been instructed to meet their “heads of table,” the organizers who had invited them. The site is revealed at the last moment, both to avoid gate-crashing and to preserve instantaneousness. The guests, decked out in white suits, dresses, skirts, feather boas and even wings, carried heavy picnic gear and delicacies like pâté de foie gras, poached salmon and fine cheeses — each table brings its own meal.
At about 9, with the sky still light, the site was announced. Guests hurried across bridges and side streets to reach their destination. By 9:30, all the tables had been deployed in orderly rows, according to diagrams in the possession of the heads of table, with men all along one side, women along the other. The guests quickly covered their tables with white cloths; laid out the crystal for Champagne, wine and water; the plates for hors d’oeuvres, main course and dessert; and began tucking in.
As night fell on Notre Dame, a clergyman appeared and blessed the throng, and church bells rang out overhead; at the Louvre, opera singers serenaded the diners. At 11 in both places, diners stood on chairs and waved sparklers — signaling the end of dinner and the beginning of the dancing (to D.J.’ed music at Notre Dame, and to a brass band at the Louvre). An hour later, the frolickers switched off the merriment and packed up their tables to depart, like Cinderella, on the stroke of midnight.
Needless to say, New York presents its own challenges. As in France, the organizers have created a fleet of “heads of table” who will collect picnickers at various meeting points around the city and shepherd them to the location. But some differences will apply. For one thing, it’s likely that Champagne will not be permitted, if the Dîner is held in a public location. For another, the proceedings are expected to end at 11.
“Even if we can’t have Champagne, it will be nice still,” Ms. Simoes said.
Mr. Laporte said, “After this year, the city will know the beauty of the Dîner,” adding, “We can show them that a big group can be very respectful.”
As in Paris, guests in New York will have a strong incentive to uphold the code of conduct. If they misbehave — for example, by bringing uninvited guests, getting too rowdy or not showing up or helping to clean —  they will receive a punishment worse than any police fine: being barred from future dinners.
“Any guest who doesn’t respect the rules of behavior will be put on a blacklist and never invited back again,” Aymeric Pasquier said.
Initially, Mr. Laporte and Ms. Simoes worried that New Yorkers would find these rules too demanding.
“But the more we talked to our New York friends,” Ms. Simoes said, “the more we realized that they were fascinated by the idea that it was difficult and special, and that you have to build your own dinner and bring your own table.”
Mr. Laporte added: “Our first impulse was to rent tables for the event, so people wouldn’t have to carry them.  But we realized that would change the spirit of the dinner too much. Part of the event is the journey there.  To think ahead, to get ready, to get the table, to prepare your picnic, to choose your outfit.  Not making it easy is part of the allure.”


It is an early morning, but by the standards of the past two weeks, the day would be burning.  Adjusting to the time change while returning home is always more complicated than arrival at my destination.  Perhaps it is because of a lack of motivation to try to get back into a schedule.
There are many posts to come about my experiences in Europe, but I thought I should begin with an overall summary of the trip to pull all of the days together into some sort of theme.  Prior to this trip, I had this notion that maybe I would figure out some answers to some of my questioning about what I want to do.  Instead, I feel slightly more confused.  I am ashamed to admit this, but there were several times on the trip that I missed home (not so much the location, but more of the people and dog).  I suppose there were even times that I missed the location simply for the ease of our lives.  When I went to Venice last year I completely cleared my mind of home and truly immersed myself into the experience.  I had to work to accomplish this goal for this trip.
So let’s talk about some of these truths.  The overarching truth that I have learned is that I am not a city girl.  I don’t like a lot of people, dirt, loud sounds, weird smells, and a lack of nature.  I suppose I have always been this way, but it just has not registered so strongly until now.  My absolute favorite moment on this trip was our excursion out to Giverny which is Monet’s home.  It is north of Paris, and in beautiful french countryside.  As soon as you walk onto his property you are greeted with some of the most beautiful flowers I have ever seen in possibly the best condition I have ever seen.  After spending about an hour in the garden and heading up to the house, you enter a beautiful country home that has views from the windows that would encourage any non-morning person to get up and watch the sun rise.  As you walk towards the lily pond you see chickens and hear roosters.  And of course when you reach the lily pond, it just all comes together.  With that said, I have realized that every time I want peace or am in a place where I feel like I am struggling, I turn to nature.  I go to the river, garden, or nature preserve.  Why should I wait to go to these places that I love only when I am unhappy?  The days that I enjoyed the most on the trip were the days that I got out of the city.  I want a piece of land that can hold a substantial garden, pond, and a comfortably sized house.  I do not need a big house, but I would rather have great grounds.  I want ducks, rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, dogs, and maybe even a chicken, rooster, or pig here and there.  To summarize, the main truth I learned on this trip is that I would like to work towards a life that can allow me to create a home like this.  One that I would be willing to share with others.
The second truth I came to regards my interest in writing.  This interest is stronger than ever, however the topic to write on might change.  I originally thought that I’d like to write a guidebook from the perspective of neighborhoods, but I am not sure if I want this to be my first endeavor.  I want to write nonfiction that will encourage people to travel to places and stand in the footsteps of what I have brought alive for them.  Growing up I remember planning trips around movies or books.  One year we did a “National Treasure” themed trip and I loved it.  There were some disappointments when I realized that there was not truth to all of the happenings and locations in the movie, but I felt something when I knew about these places and went to them.  I remember the last time I went to Paris we visited some locations featured in “The Da Vinci Code.”  Imagine if you went to places that were true and real.  While in Paris, I read A Moveable Feast by Hemingway.  It is about his time in Paris and I loved how he brought Paris alive from his time period.  When I visited the places he described, it meant something to me because he gave the place significance.  What if I could write stories about people or events in certain locations that would encourage people to travel and see and feel that moment in time?  To me, this is where nonfiction is so powerful.  I find truth to be awakening.
One topic that I’ve thought about on this trip is writing a book with stories of famous people and their hobbies.  When I went to the Churchill Cabinet and War Rooms, they had an exhibit on Churchill that was amazing.  Most people would find the information about the war period to be interesting, but my favorite part was a kiosk that showcased his paintings.  Churchill was a fairly good painter and it was his hobby he used to think.  When he talked about painting, he said,  “I know of nothing which, without exhausting the body, more entirely occupies the mind.”  Everyone needs that escape, to completely vacate your mind of thoughts that you need a break from.  I think it would be interesting to see how famous people do this.  Churchill didn’t do little paint-by-numbers pieces, but portraits and landscapes.  It is just a thought amongst many, but I think it would be interesting to research and write about.  To share the experiences of the human condition that we all face can be comforting.  Like C.S. Lewis said, “we read to know we are not alone.”
Please check back regularly because I will be adding a large number of photos to the photography section and many posts to share my time in Europe.  I have truly enjoyed your comments and I hope that you continue to follow my blog.
Below is a painting by Churchill called “Sunset Over the Atlas Mountains.”