And just like that, summer 2017 is over. Every summer feels more poignant now that the girls are older. These days, it seems that I’m always counting how many more years I’ve got with them before they leave the coop. This way of thinking may be a bit harsh and melodramatic but it’s my way of of facing the sad truth — that the remaining time I have with my daughters is brief and I should make the most of now.
The girls started school this week, both of them at the end of a milestone — grade school and middle school. But before we headed back to the rhythm of things and harsh realities, we spent Labor Day weekend in Mystic, Connecticut. To those of you who are familiar with Mystic, the photos here will be familiar with scenes of ships, boats and Mystic Aquarium.
Hope you’re having a great week!
An old Viking ship
Place of worship
Charles Morgan, a true whaling ship that sailed from 1841-1921. Actually got to go inside this vessel!
One of my favorite towns near us in Normandy is Honfleur, a place I’ve written about quite often on this space. Its early association with artists like Claude Monet, Eugene Boudin and Erik Satie continue to this day as the town carries on the tradition of featuring innovative artists in its galleries and lively musicians on its streets. A few Saturdays ago, the town hosted “La Nuit des Artistes” or Artists’ Night where all sort of performances, most at no charge, were available to the public. There were gospel choir singing, opera on one of the main courtyards, pantomiming as well as sculptures and artwork in plein air. I think there’s no better way than an event like this to make art less intimidating and more accessible to everyone — young and old, novice and experienced alike. The more access we all have to art, the more it will be a part of our daily lives. Do you agree? Wish we have more events like this one in the US…
We recently spent a week in Formentera, Spain. Not as popular as its flashy island sister, Ibiza, the island of Formentera has been some sort of creative haven since the sixties and seventies. The island had been refuge for Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell at different points in their artistic lives and architect Philippe Starck has a house near Cap de Barbaria.
The thing that I love most about Formentera is its rugged beauty that refuses over commercialization. You won’t see hotel or retail chains on the island. Most of the shops and restaurants that we went to have that artisanal feel that’s rare in most summer beach destinations.
Here are some highlights of our vacation….
Hippie Market at El Pilar de Mola
View from the Blue Bar
Lighthouse from Cap de Barbaria, southernmost part of island where Africa isn’t too far away
Church in Sant Francesc, one of the main towns
Some of the things we did that I recommend doing while in Formentera…
- Seeing sunset at Sa Sequi restaurant, one of the best views on the island
- Eating at the hippie chic Blue Bar where the food is yummy and the view is amazing
- Renting a boat and going to Illa Espalmador, only accessible by boat and has the clearest water I’ve ever seen
- Going to Platja Migjorn for the beach and Illetes for the scene
- Seeing the lighthouse in Cap de Barbaria and hippie market in El Pilar de la Mola
- Shopping in Sant Francesc’s town center
We’re slowly settling back to our house in Normandy. It’s funny how things have gotten easier over the years as we develop our habits and ways in going about our time here. After 14 years, we now know where to go for mundane things we take for granted at home in the US like where to get the best produce, bread, pastries and even simple things (think nails and paint) to mend the house. The good thing about settling in fast is the we’re also able to enjoy all the great things that Normandy offers.
One of the first things we did when we got here is visit the city of Le Havre, which is celebrating its 500th year. Imagine that…500 years! Much has happened in the city’s history but one of the most critical ones is the devastation Le Havre encountered during World War II. There’s much hype about the movie Dunkirk right now and its role during the war but Le Havre is also another French town that played a major role during that period. It took architect Auguste Perret’s great modernist vision post-war to develop what the city is today. Le Havre indeed feels like no other French city with all its modern buildings and architecture. I used to hate its utilitarian sort of feel but it’s only through learning Perret’s vision vis-a-vis the city’s history that I learned to appreciate this place.
Most of the art installations below were created for the city’s milestone anniversary…
MuMa Le Havre
Street Art by Vincent Ganivet
Le Volcan designed by Oscar Niemeyer in 1982
Art at St. Joseph church designed by Chiharu Shihota that symbolizes spiritual awakening
Work by Lang/Baumann to resemble doors that open to the sea
Last weekend, we visited Philadelphia, my old hometown where I spent critical years that still play a huge role in who I am today. I love sharing memories of the city with the girls even though I’m sure most of my comments went to deaf ears. I feel that I have a renewed appreciation for the city. Though much has changed in the areas I visited in Center City and Rittenhouse Square, I always love the fact that Philly is so much more manageable and less intimidating than cities like New York, Paris or Chicago.
We spent the afternoon visiting the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, which currently has an exhibit on my favorite artist of the moment, Robert Motherwell. PAFA is the oldest art museum and art school in the United States.
I can’t tell you the last time we were in the US for July Fourth weekend since the girls were born. We usually pack up and leave for France as soon as school wraps up. But times are changing and the girls wanted to do a few summer camps here in July so we postponed our vacation a bit later till the end of the month.
It’s great to be in the US this holiday. I must say it was a little sad and felt a bit disloyal to celebrate Independence Day in Europe when this holiday calls for all things American. So I was glad to have spent the weekend a bit in the Catskills/Woodstock/Hudson/Phoenicia/Saugerties area and be home in time to see my sister’s new house and go to a friend’s barbecue party.
Beach Plum Farm, a market/farm/restaurant venue, was one of our stops in Cape May a few weeks ago. Yes, I know it’s a bit glammed-up for a farm but I still love seeing the gardens, looking at the local produce and just hanging out by the fire pit area. Most importantly, I love how the farm harkens back to Jersey’s agricultural days.
Beach Plum Farm was founded by Curtis Bashaw, who also owns Congress Hall and the Virginia Hotel. The farm also supplies local produce to these establishments as well as other Cape May eateries. If you’re visiting Cape May this summer, make sure to check out Beach Plum Farm!
With the girls going to two school systems with different vacation weeks, our Spring Break was pretty much limited to five days. And so with that limited time, we decided for a quick getaway in Miami even though we already had spent Spring Break there two years ago. At least with Miami, we did not have to worry about connecting flights, time change or unpredictable weather. Sunny days, entertainment and good food are pretty much guaranteed.
I wish I can say we did all these novel things while in Miami. The reality was that we wanted to enjoy every minute of sitting by the pool and the beach and really not doing much of anything. Our sole outing, apart from eating out, was going to the Perez Art Museum while my biggest accomplishment was finishing two books.
As short as this vacation was, I still feel recharged from putting a quick break from the usual routine. How was your Spring Break?
We spent the last day of 2016 at the Centre Pompidou, our go-to place for art exhibits whenever we’re in Paris. In recent years, the exhibits at the Pompidou, from Lichtenstein to Klee, have all been so comprehensive, fascinating and unique. The artists featured at this place, unlike those at other top museums in Paris, are often fresh, modern and slightly provocative — totally my cup of tea.
I guess I am not alone in my love for the Pompidou. According to a recent newspaper article in France, the museum had a 9% increase in attendance in 2016, when most Paris venues were empty due to terrorist fears. During the same period, other more traditional Parisian museums like the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay lost 15% and 13% respectively of visitors.
But enough of the facts, right? The exhibits we saw, Cy Twombly and Rene Magritte, were quite delightlful. The temperature in Paris that morning was below 30 degrees Fahrenheit and the line in front of the museum was quite long and moved at an annoyingly snail’s pace. Despite the harsh elements, we stayed in line because it was our last day in Paris and we knew that we won’t get another shot at seeing these two great exhibits together again.
Twombly and Magritte are such different artists. Twombly’s free flowing, almost anarchic style is a stark contrast to Magritte’s methodical and philosophical approach to art. Just look at the images below…
The funny thing about these two particular exhibits is that my admiration for these two artists were reversed after seeing their works closer and more extensively. I was not a Magritte fan before the show but I came away from it utterly impressed with the precision and thought the artist put into every single one of his works. On the other hand, Twombly, left me a little flat with his carefree style and oversized canvases. I supposed Twombly’s works just did not move me or fascinate me the same way Magritte’s art did.
Happy New Year! Hope that you had a wonderful holiday season spent doing things you love with people near and dear to your heart. We spent about 10 days in France, most of it in my happy place, Normandy. It’s always a little different to see a place you love at a different time of the year. There’s always fear that the said place would not live up to your vision of it, especially as the harsh elements of winter take toll on its natural beauty. Given that we see Normandy mostly in July and August, I tend to associate it with verdant green landscapes, at their peak and in full glory in the summer.
I have to say that I wasn’t disappointed with Normandy in the week we were there. We were blessed with decent weather, no rain and only bitter cold temperatures at the end, so surely my views here are completely biased, right? In all seriousness though, seeing the light in Normandy, the way the sun shines at different hours of the day, makes me understand why so many Impressionists painters did their work here. There is something soft and romantic about the way the sun illuminates different Norman pastures and landmarks.
Spending time in Normandy and Paris twice this year also makes me look forward to the time when the girls will be in college or even older when I can spend unrestricted amount of time here. There’s something about these corners of France that gives me comfort and feel like home to me. Does that make sense? Do you feel that one part of yourself belong to a place you don’t currently call home? I do, I feel that a part of my soul stays in France whenever I head back home to America.