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Archive for the ‘artsy stuff’ Category

savannah 2.0

finally, a new post!  Listening to Andrew Duhon as I edit this post and fondly remembering an incredible birthday trip to New Orleans.  He’s singing Girls from Other Countries as I type this.  For me, it’s boys but the song resonates strongly and that trip was one of many that proved the serendipity and magic that comes from leaving your comfortable home base can make your life feel rich beyond your childhood dreams.  I check myself when I am about to say something obnoxious like “yeah, I am kind of bored of Paris”.  As a child growing up in the middle of nowhere, getting to Paris even ONCE seemed like a fairytale.  Paris was one of those fantastic places that taught me to just be more adventurous,  Stay in a cheap hotel near Gare du Nord, which was way too dangerous the first time I went, but now just provides a new, fresh Parisian experience 🙂

 

If you read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, you will also gain an understanding of why Savannah has such an Austin feel.  If you stay in the Historic District you will likely pass the building that really shook up Savannah several times.  John wrote the book because cheap airlines were new and he started travelling from New York to Savannah on a regular basis and became more or less a local.  One of the other developments happening at that time was a push to expand the Savannah College of Art and Design.  According to him, Savannah was the conservative southern place you likely envision at the time and there was a definite clash of cultures but the college expanded and added a layer of hip to sleepy Savannah.

you could be in france!

What you get now is a fascinating mix of genteel southern manners and modern 21st century comforts and enticements.  For me one of the most delightful parts of Savannah was just wandering the streets from square to square.  It’s worth going into the Cathedral of St John the Baptist.  It was dedicated in 1876 and is one of the most spectacular in the region.

The other area worth checking out is the riverfront.  There are lots of options for eating and drinking and plenty of shops catering to tourists.  Two of the best options are River Street Sweets for pralines, salt water taffy and other sweet treats and the Arts and Crafts Emporium (up a staircase) for local arts and crafts you can take home as non-edible souvenirs.

Two places to check out in this neighborhood are Chart House and the Bayou Café.  Chart House is right on the water and you can have a meal on the patio.  The Bayou Café has live music every night so was where I spent my Monday night birthday.  It’s more Louisiana than Georgia but in the ‘hood and with basic but delicious seafood and Cajun fare.

I decided to try snow crab for the first time.  It took a few tries (and several stains on my top) to get

the beauty of latin squares

the hang of it but it was delicious and I acquired a new skill.  The singer noted that I was eating alone, found out it was my birthday, sang me “happy birthday” and bought me a shot of bourbon.  As already noted, there are a lot of friendly Americans.

He had recently broken up with his girlfriend so to make sure things didn’t get weird after last set, I left a bit early and encountered a young late night busker so ended up listening to him and then conversing for quite a while as he gave away some of his earnings to beggars.  I kept giving him money as I didn’t think he could probably afford his generosity.  He insisted I couldn’t walk back to the hotel (I had been doing it every night) so I waited for some sort of Uber arrangement he had made. I gave him money for that too so he had a great night but I remember being young and poor and am very generous to young people if they treat me well and I like them.

For shopping, the other street to check out is Broughton Street. It’s the main thoroughfare.  Nearby is a wonderful restaurant that is a Savannah institution, Belford’s.  The restaurant only arrived in 1996 but is housed in a historic building and is one of the best rated restaurants in town.  I managed to indulge in happy hour, which is a great bargain.  I also discovered that, like New Orleans, you can get your wine to go as long as you stay within a certain part of the Historic District so you can indulge in happy hour prices while strolling the historic streets with your beverage of choice.

One final suggestion if you like local history is a drink at The Desoto.  It’s now super modern 21st century complete with mixologists but its origins come from 1890 when it opened as a luxury hotel that became known as the Dowager Empress of the South.

Beaches and resorts are not far away if that is more your scene.  For me, pretending to live in different century is always a delightful adventure. Of course, I prefer my experience to not be TOO authentic.  I love the glamour and romance of the 17th and 18th centuries but I also totally enjoy actually living in my own.  Savannah offers you the best of both 😉

kermit would love it

I started this post a long time ago and then realized I forgot to mention the most surprising discovery of my trip to Savannah to listen to music.  Apparently they do St Patrick’s Day better than maybe anywhere else in the world.  One of my best friends had a dream of seeing it in New York City so I’ve done that.  I would love to check out Chicago but I’m not sure it will surpass Savannah.  It is so huge they sneak in and practically every fountain is green a few days before March 17th.  It is also WAY nicer weather in Savannah in March so that is part of the reason it is so successful.  Northerners are happy to come and celebrate in a climate that is much more hospitable than Ireland 😉

Any proper Irish person would consider them pussies 🙂  Being partly Irish, I have discovered it is more an Irish-American thing than an Irish thing.  I’ve been an immigrant a couple of times and totally understand that nostalgia for home.

So, what are you waiting for?  Savannah in March has so much to offer.  As I was heading to the airport, my taxi driver (who looked like a character from the Dukes of Hazzard 😉 teased me… “you don’t really want to leave, do you?  Quite honestly, I said, “no, especially as I am leaving just before St. Patrick’s Day.  Next time I stay longer…”

 

music lover nirvana

That is the fun of a much smaller festival.  I didn’t generally run into people more than once but it was easy to make connections and the venues are all close together and it is easy to hop between venues generally without having to wait in long lines.

Later that night I got braver and found W. Congress Street and was lured into The Jinx by the music, discovering Sun Parade.  I wanted to get my full breakfast at the inn so didn’t stay out too late the first night.  The charming gentleman at check-in had given me a good map with various highlights, including the route back to the inn from W. Congress along Bull Street.

My ability to navigate both the streets of Savannah, the locations of the various clubs and the band schedules improved considerably on day two and I think I hit every venue before the festival was over.  One of my favourites was the Congress Street Social Club.  Not only did it have an outdoor patio, it also had Shiner Bock, my favourite beer from my visit to Austin.

It also ended up providing the most fun story of the trip. By Friday night, I was pretty comfortable with Savannah and so checked out the after-hours lounge that was just for VIPs, volunteers and bands.  As a bonus, drinks were free 🙂  On Friday night, it wasn’t too busy but there was one lively young woman who decided we should all be dancing.  I’m not sure why but being lured onto dance floors to boogie with strangers is a very common activity in my travel life 😉  At least there were no fancy twirls and dips this time.

birthday club

I didn’t think much about it until the next day at the Congress Street Social Club when I was waiting in line to get a Shiner Bock and the guy behind me commented on my dance moves.  What was extra fun was that it turned out he was the lead singer for the band I had come to see, Birthday Club (from Houston).  While I was waiting for them to get set up, I also met Zack and John David who were incredibly entertaining (almost as good as the band).  That added some pressure for the band to be good so that they would be impressed by my musical taste.  Luckily, the band was great and I bought them a CD and a poster since they had bought me a beer and introduced them to the band as new fans. Everyone was thrilled.  I had even more fun at the after-hours club on Saturday night since I knew some band members by then and it was a lot livelier.

Unfortunately Zack and John David didn’t find me later in the night as we agreed then but it was

plastic picnic

easy to meet people and there was a really relaxed atmosphere everywhere I went.  The next band was also very good (Plastic Picnic from Brooklyn). Unfortunately they didn’t have any CDs.  I tried my best to buy CDs and support the artists since I know it’s a tough industry these days for emerging artists.

spectacular entrance

The most impressive venue is the stage at the Ships of the Sea Museum where the opening and closing acts are showcased.  The closing act was Of Montreal, a friend of the event and definitely a band to check out live.  They are a bit more established so likely a bit easier to find beyond the Savannah Stopover.

Another impressive venue was the Trinity United Methodist Church.  That’s where I discovered Colter Wall.  I went because he is from Swift Current

colter wall

in Canada not that far from where I spent my childhood.  To see someone from my own environs in faraway Savannah, Georgia was a no brainer.  He is a country guy so I didn’t know of him before Savannah.  While his performance was a little stiff, his voice is a revelation.

It’s the kind of event where you can talk to the performer so I told him I had been to Swift Current, that he sounded like a young Johnny Cash and asked which album I should buy. He acted like a nice Canadian kid and seemed pleased with all of it – and I loved the album so have been talking him up ever since.

vegabonds

I do have a soft spot for country so checking out bands from Nashville not out of character but also loved the Vegabonds who are Nashville but more southern rock than country.  I have listened to their album, What We’re Made of, a LOT.  Highly recommended.  And again, band was very friendly.

You get the idea… I would definitely recommend to come and check out Savannah Stopover for yourself and find your own musical discoveries.  You can also just come for the local talent, especially if you live nearby.  My final musical encounter of sorts was meeting Danielle Hicks at the after party.  Her show had been on the same time as another on my list so I just stayed at the same venue and missed her but she kindly gave me a CD at the party and converted me into a fan.

It was so much fun and I am sure I will return but it was agreed I had probably travelled further than anyone else at the festival so likely not every year – but for those living on the east coast, you don’t have that excuse 😉

p.s. also check out these bands.  They are all emerging and could use your support.

p.p.s. since I started writing this, had a fun random encounter.  Since the government mostly controls liquor distribution in Canada and sin taxes are insane, it is really rare to find a decent bottle of wine for under $10.  I’d taken a chance on a Chilean rose at my local store and apparently I was not the only person who thought it was a great deal so had to take the train to a bigger store that had some in stock to buy more.  It’s a specialty store that has products I can’t get at most stores so bought enough to make the visit worthwhile and looked like a pack mule when I got on the train.  A young woman named Jessica kindly offered me her seat but I told her I was fine.  While Canadians aren’t unfriendly, there is definitely some British reserve to the culture so assumed that would be the end of the conversation but I could see she wanted to chat so I found out she didn’t normally drink alcohol but did like rose so I showed her the label and provided some background on the Australian wine industry (where it all began for me).  More was discussed and I felt a little sad that I didn’t have very many stops on the route.  It made me realize how delightful human interaction can be and that we could all use more of it.  I do it a lot when I travel.  One of the reasons travel makes me so happy.  Some cultures are especially easy to interact with when you are a stranger so a little shout-out to Americans.  The rest of the world is wondering a little about some of their choices these days but they are one of the friendliest cultures on the planet and that made my trip to Savannah so much more enjoyable.

 

 

la belle époque

Marion Cotillard’s character in Midnight in Paris would love Bucharest 🙂  I first saw the film on a flight to Paris so it will always be a little extra special.  It’s about our nostalgia for the past and how we often imagine it as better – and more romantic – than the present.  I definitely think the 21st century has done a lot to kill romance but I am not a believer in trying to relive the past.  The film is brilliant as the main character, Gil, actually gets to time travel and cavort with Hemingway and Dali in the period he believes to be the most golden, Paris in the 1920s.  Marion’s character is living in the 1920s but pining for La Belle Époque.

I’m listening to Leonard Cohen as I write this, just a random choice, but the perfect accompaniment to writing about nostalgia.  When I was younger, I tried the usual things – drinking at Café de Flore in Paris pretending I was Simone de Beauvoir, drinking a wildly overpriced Bellini at Harry’s Bar in Venice imagining I was getting soused with Hemingway, enjoying a nightcap with a friend at the Algonquin Hotel in New York wishing I was as witty at Dorothy Parker.  But I always felt like a tourist trying to channel a ghost that wasn’t present.

in the zeitgeist :)

in the zeitgeist 🙂

It was in Shanghai that I had my real epiphany.    It was 2008, just as the world was melting into financial chaos, but it was National Day Golden Week in China.  Everybody in China gets the same days off and, during this week, people flood the roads and airports.  Shanghai already had over 16 million people but Golden Week meant there were a few million more!  The biggest highlight was having a five course tasting menu in a fancy French restaurant in my hotel served mostly by an enterprising young French chef who had come to China to further his career.

It’s impossible to describe what it was like to be in Shanghai at that moment.  It was like being part of a party attended by 20 million people.  The west was predicting the next great depression.  I saw it on CNN and wondered if I should do something… but then I stepped out of the hotel and the party was in full swing so I just embraced it.  The reason we are nostalgic about de Beauvoir, Hemingway and Parker is that they were living in the Zeitgeist of their time – they were at the pulse of history.  That’s also why trying to duplicate their actions feels so empty.  Paris in 2016 is nothing like Paris in the 1920s.  The Zeitgeist is constantly in motion.  If you want to feel like Hemingway did in 1920s Paris, you need to find the future, not the past.

In 2016, Shanghai looks a lot shakier than it did in 2008 and the Zeitgeist may have passed it by.  You never know if you were in a place at exactly the right moment until you are looking at it years later (unless, of course, you were in Berlin in 1989 when the wall started to come down – YOU KNEW you were in the Zeitgeist that week).  The point is – try new places, don’t copy, be original, be curious, search for the future and enjoy the contradictions that over 2,000 years of human history have imbued.

One great place to do all of that is Bucharest!  While Dracula hunting is very popular with tourists to Romania, there is lots to see in Bucharest.  Even better, you will be visiting a very interesting city at a very interesting time in its history (and, if channelling Hemingway really is your thing, you can drink cheaply pretty much 24/7 it seems… I am sure Hemingway would have moved on from Paris 😉  It seems the glory period for much of Bucharest was La Belle Époque.  As already noted, there is a magpie quality to Bucharest architecture, but there is also significant 19th century French influence.

I never even managed to see all the attractions in Bucharest but the ones I did see were very worthwhile.  I normally start my day in a new city by walking the streets and trying to suss out its character.  In that regard, Bucharest is very intriguing.  There are beautiful 19th century buildings in the same block as Pizza Hut and KFC.  Beautiful architecture is mixed with graffiti.  It’s clear this is a complicated place.  I knew a little of Romanian history before I got to Bucharest but my knowledge was very shallow.  I still have much to learn but what is most impressive about Bucharest – and Romanians – is how they have survived and thrived given all the crap thrown at them in the 20th century.

Bucharest in 2016 feels more like Prague in 1999 (my first visit).  It’s why you should go now.  I absolutely want the Romanian economy to improve and for Romanians to enjoy a better standard of living but that will mean Bucharest will start to look more like other cities.  With luck, the beautiful old buildings will be restored, rather than replaced, but there is no guarantee – so go now while they are still there.

One of the most beautiful is the Romanian Athenaeum.  It was completed in 1888, astonishingly financed almost entirely by money donated by the

easily rivals paris!

easily rivals paris!

general public.  Europeans love classical music, especially in the middle where most of the dudes were born hundreds of years ago.  I haven’t been to Greece yet but this is a little slice of Athens.  Marble, gold leaf, all that gorgeous over-the-top decoration so popular in the past.  The building is stunning and apparently the acoustics are also outstanding.  I wasn’t fortunate enough to hear an actual concert but did get to witness some musicians practicing.

http://fge.org.ro/en/romanian-atheneum.html

perfect for lovers :)

perfect for lovers 🙂

Another attraction I discovered by accident on my random walk the first morning was the Cișmigiu Gardens.  It is the oldest and largest park in Bucharest and a beautiful place to stroll, partly because it is actually a gigantic garden, rather than a park, so much thought was put into the design.

http://www.tourism-bucharest.com/bucharest-attractions/parks-and-gardens-in-bucharest/cismigiu-park.html

It would have been a perfect place for Marion Cotillard’s character in Midnight in Paris to stroll with a lover.  Bucharest evokes La Belle Époque more than Paris.  That era was the height of its 20th century glory.  A manicured garden, rather than a wild park, is very Parisian.  This is the city nicknamed “Little Paris”.  So, if your budget is tight, skip Paris and come to Bucharest 😉  Big spenders can compare and contrast…

changes…

Not all are good!  Changes are kind of my thing and the number of figurative cliffs I have jumped off might number in the hundreds.  Some of it is attributable to David Bowie, even though I never met him.

The closest I ever got was possibly his best ever tour…1983… we got old Bowie plus brand new MTV “Let’s Dance” Bowie with a white-face Peter Gabriel as a Powerball bonus.

The best concert of my life.  We had to take a bus to Edmonton and I slept in a cheap hotel room with two other guys, neither of whom considered sleeping in the same bed as me to be a win…  I think in the end someone might have slept on the floor.  We didn’t have enough money for more than one room and back pain was decades off.

I was raised in that ultra-religious good girl kind of environment so the boys blew my world apart.  They insisted we needed to be as close to the stage as possible rather than sitting in the safe assigned seats.  It wasn’t really mosh pit days yet but it was not entirely safe. The benefit was that I really saw Bowie – and Peter – up close and almost personal.

What is more important at a concert though is that you are connecting with the other fans – and being close enough to touch the stage enhances your experience.

That memory involves the guy who eventually did become comfortable with me in his bed and became my first serious boyfriend.  There is no question Bowie played a role 😉

What he might not have appreciated is that Bowie was the first artist I ever liked that I didn’t need to feel guilty about – or just outright lie that I actually liked 🙂

For that, I have to thank Kevin.  He was my sorta-not-really junior high boyfriend.  It was a relationship that presented to me at such a young age that I never appreciated at the time how important it was and could have done so much better a couple of decades on.

In the old days when there was no social media our connections were very different so I should likely find him and express how important he was to my life and how much I learned from him even though we never even properly dated.

Right now what matters is that he was a drummer (the kind who did drum solos and everyone listened) and had musical taste… so he made me listen to Changes... and other stuff…  but Changes was always Kevin’s song.

Then I fell in love with Mike who was my musical guru – and a huge Bowie fan.  My musical choices improved.  Eventually I became someone with eclectic and great musical taste…

but it all started with Bowie… and my great choice in boyfriends 🙂

It is such a tragedy.  It is one of the few times I have felt bereft about someone I didn’t actually know.  He was an important guy.  The music was fantastic but what was more important is that he pushed the envelope and used his celebrity to promote social justice along with musical innovation.

I felt privileged to have seen The Serious Moonlight Tour.  I also got to see the Bowie spectacular at the Philharmonie in Paris last year.  I hope it’s still touring – would be a great tribute to a man who put a mark on our society that will be his legacy…

have checked since and it is… called, a bit weirdly, David Bowie Is… you might have to travel… but just pack your tunes 😉

http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/touring-exhibition-david-bowie-is/

a love letter to stephen colbert :)

paris eiffel tower classicThis will be a respite for anyone who isn’t really into words 🙂  I love words so my posts are normally full of them with a few images thrown in for interest… old school photojournalism…

but I am still reeling from Friday and, like all grieving processes, it is complex and without any obvious or simple path…

I was missing Jon Stewart on Friday – and wondering if Stephen would fill his shoes.  As one of my major-I-will-never-meet-you celebrity crushes, the stakes were high.

http://www.cbs.com/shows/the-late-show-with-stephen-colbert/

He is now playing with silly cats – and even sporting cat ears… I know the look – it is my default Halloween costume 🙂

 

only in paris

But it is the right ending to a show filled with French symbolism, speeches worthy of political leaders, cool military guys, an interesting artist – and even Bill Maher – another crush!

He really did right by France.  And, in tribute, I am posting a few more iconic photos of Paris…

we need undying love now more than ever

we need undying love now more than ever

Paris, je tàime toujours…

let’s cross our fingers and hope for the best…

We will soon be in another country but some random thoughts about India before I move on to the next continent.

I believe one in seven people in the world can trace their roots to India.  That is a lot of people!  With that many people, life is bound to be messy.  With China slowing down and an optimistic new Indian Prime Minister, India is in the news a lot these days.

Travelling there it is hard to know what to think.  It’s clear there is a lot of work to do and not all the rich people appreciate the daily lifestyle of the poor people.  Those kind of illusions exist in the west as well.  Why I encourage everyone I can to travel and see the world and meet the people.  Listen to what your parents, friends and the media tell you – but don’t believe it without question.  Learn to make your own judgements and opinions.

What I have found to be universally true is that there are a lot of good, kind ordinary people in even the most corrupt and screwed up country.  The challenge is how to improve their lives in a meaningful way.  Troops, assassinations and even charity often do more harm than good.  I’m a big believer in the market economy so one thing you can do is travel and do some shopping 🙂

a riot of colour

a riot of colour

C did his best to keep me out of the shops (or hurry me along – if he had let me shop longer on our way to Jhansi we wouldn’t have had to spend hours waiting for the train outside the station 😉 but I defied him 🙂  India is a shopping paradise, especially for those who don’t favour black.  There is a riot of colour everywhere.  There are saris, purses, bangles, shawls, intricately carved furniture, jewelry made of precious gemstones and so much more.

I wish I could provide more shopping tips but it was a tiny part of my Indian experience.  What I would say is to be wary of help from guides.  Normally in Asia, there is a kickback to guides for bringing in unsuspecting tourists.  I didn’t have much choice due to the chock-a-block itinerary so let the guide take me shopping in Agra.  You definitely get lots of attention and Indian shopkeepers are skilled salespeople so keep your head about you.  It’s also good to not be too enthusiastic as typically prices are not marked.

I’m not much of a bargainer so I enjoyed my time shopping in the hotel much more.  It’s entirely possible I was getting ripped off but the gentlemen were charming and the goods were gorgeous so I didn’t care.  Compared to my hometown the prices were good and I was hopefully helping the economy a little bit.  What I really like is to buy from artisans directly but that isn’t always possible.

I actually had my best shopping experience at the airport.  The prices seemed the same and there was a vast array of gorgeous goods – and it was more independent – not all the goods were stacked behind the counter.  You could drape the shawl on yourself.  I would definitely recommend that you buy at least one shawl on your trip to India.  When it’s 40 degrees outside, it can be hard to be enthusiastic about a real pashmina but you will be grateful when you step onto the plane.

I’ve been hauling a black shawl I bought in London onto planes for years now.  It’s practical but sometimes seems too dark so I was over the moon to find a multi-coloured shawl made of very fine wool.  It livens up the neutrals and is a match to pink, purple, green, yellow, turquoise, orange… pretty much anything.  It has become one of my most prized possessions.  Worth a trip to India just to get that shawl 🙂

a typical street scene

a typical street scene

India is a vast and complicated place.  My travels only skimmed the surface of its possibilities.  Before, during and after I read some great books about Indian history and culture, which I would recommend, even if a trip isn’t on your agenda:

Indian Summer by Alex Von Tunzelmann – a very readable history about Indian independence

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo – a poignant picture of modern India and people who would love the chance to use a luxury toilet

Around India in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh – one of the many expat Indians looking for her roots and a primer for train travel in India

Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald – an expat outside perspective on India

We ended our visit to India on a high note.  The road from Agra to Delhi is sleek and modern and we made the kind of time we spoiled westerners expect every day.  No cows on the road to slow us down!  Due to the issues we faced at Bandhavgarth, the original Indian tour company representative met us in Delhi and then treated us to a special meal.  The setting was fantastic.  It looked very western.  We were outside in a park covered with fairy lights and the place was packed with well-dressed locals.  The new India obviously.  Once again the cocktail was fine but the food was hilarious.  While we got to have a special meal, we could not choose from the regular menu so the choices were really limited.  I love Italian food so thought I would go for the pasta.  I have been cooking Italian food for years and won’t reheat it in the microwave because pasta needs to be al dente.  A little overcooked I can handle if I must but this was mush…

Apparently Indians love mush!  It was so bad I barely ate any and the server was good so we discussed it.  He laughed as he knew what I was talking about but he said Indians would send it back if the chef actually cooked it al dente!  I related my experiences with foreign cuisine in India and do advise you not to go there.  It’s a little boring eating Indian food every day but it’s all they know how to do 🙂

One of the benefits of writing the blog is that I get to relive my travel adventures and I am feeling nostalgic for India as I type this.  Without question, it is not a really easy travel destination but you can organize to live in a bubble if you want – or be bold like the Australian lady and take 2nd class trains.  There’s lots going on and it is obvious some progress is being made.

also india an art show in hotel lobby

also india an art show in hotel lobby

I would love to see the trickle-down economics turn into a flood but I know that may be delusional.  But we can always hope.  My Viking ancestors could never have imagined in their wildest dreams the incredible life I would lead a few centuries on as I type my thoughts to the world while glancing out the window at the boats on False Creek enjoying the last summer long weekend.  Let’s just cross our fingers and hope the new Prime Minister finds a way to bridge the centuries like a time machine and bring the people I saw walking along the road transporting goods on their heads into the 21st century.

 

 

not that I would wear any of it ;)

I have been on the road almost constantly since my last post so have lots of new travel tales but haven’t had any time to commit them to paper.  My summer project… thought I would start with some exhibitions that are current in case anyone is inspired to check them out…

I was one of those children who made clothes for my dolls.  I didn’t have access to Vogue.  I’d never seen a designer dress.  I didn’t even know the concept.  My fashion inspiration came from the Simplicity and Butterick pattern books my grandmother brought home from the dry goods department where she worked when the new ones arrived.  I learned that I could put in a request and I could have my very own collection.  I poured over all the shapes and styles, noting the subtle changes that transformed the base pattern.  It was an early education in tailoring – and perhaps the reason I lean toward Armani rather than Galliano.

Most of the photos of me as a child show me dressed in embarrassing outfits.  I have no idea why they want to bring the 70’s back.  Those were some scary moments in fashion…

But it was a time of high drama, especially in western countries.  The 60’s ushered in the concept of social change but most of it happened in the 70’s.  I was too young to appreciate most of it, especially as I lived in a remote rural community where not that much was changing.  One thing I did know about was David Bowie.  Before the internet, information was hard to come by.  I didn’t even know the Talking Heads existed in 1977, let alone that I should be buying that album.

My first fledgling teenage romance was with a drummer.  It was a headbanger rock kind of town so most of his favourite songs just sounded like noise to me.  But then he played “Changes”.  We had common ground – and I liked him a little more…  It became part of the soundtrack of my life.

I am not particularly interested in famous people and think most of them would likely prove to be quite boring in person – but Bowie is an exception.  He was my first decent musical choice so I know quite a lot about him but never really thought much about his social impact.  Being a big Bowie fan, I was intrigued when I emerged at Gare du Nord last month and saw intriguing posters of him all over the station.  Luckily, I had dinner the next night with friends from Vancouver who informed me there was an exhibit at the Philharmonie de Paris.

philharmonie de paris

philharmonie de paris

I was worried that – in the age of the internet – my lack of research and preparation for Paris – would render me ticketless but the Philharmonie is new and in an area of Paris I have not yet explored so worth the trip even if I couldn’t get into the exhibition.  It appears there are still some tickets reserved for people willing to make a journey to the ticket office in person.  You need some patience but eventually you get in…

It was definitely worth the wait.  The exhibition originated at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  It’s called “David Bowie is”.  It’s hard to describe, as mercurial and enigmatic as Bowie himself.  You walk through a series of objects, videos, photos and costumes depicting Bowie’s biography.  You have headphones and the music changes as you roam to put the right soundtrack to the particular part of the exhibit in which you find yourself.  It includes the expected key points in his biography and the musical history but what makes it really resonate is the analysis of Bowie’s influences, collaborators and social impact.

http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/touring-exhibition-david-bowie-is/

I am one of those people who have spent a lot of time searching for the meaning to life.  For me, it’s been a combination of art, culture and relationships.  So it was fascinating to see how Bowie was influenced by books, music, travel and the people in his life – and how his achievements were generally part of a collective of talented, intelligent, interesting people.  He was just the most famous name in the group.

Anyway, go check it out for yourself.  It closed on May 31, 2015 at the Philharmonie de Paris but it’s touring internationally so see if it’s coming to a location near you…

The Victoria and Albert Museum featured heavily in my May sojourn in Europe.  They have also put together a killer exhibit on Alexander McQueen called Savage Beauty.  It’s on until August 2, 2015. I would recommend booking in advance.  I’m not sure if I just got lucky, or if my friend Monica’s E&Y connections scored us tickets, but they are definitely in high demand.  Seeing the exhibit I could understand why.  While there are very few items of clothing or accessories I would have any interest in actually wearing, it is fascinating to be inside Alexander McQueen’s head as he dreams this stuff up.

http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/exhibition-alexander-mcqueen-savage-beauty/

The V&A has made it very atmospheric so it doesn’t feel like a museum but rather a strange trip into a dark, gothic Romanian forest where you are wary that Dracula might jump out from behind a mannequin and bite you on the neck.  The coolest part is a room staged like a cabinet of curiosities.  On the walls, items are placed in boxes like a giant Renaissance cabinet of curiosities.  In the center, there is a 21st century bank of monitors playing video from multiple McQueen shows on a continuous loop.  It’s a perfect embodiment of his sensibility – strange old-fashioned exceptionally English clothes modified for the 21st century.

If you also made clothes for your dolls – or just are really interested in fashion…

There are two more stops for you in Paris.  The Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent is hosting an exhibit “Yves Saint Laurent 1971 – the Scandal Collection” until July 19, 2015.  It’s for fashionphiles.   It’s basically a chance to look into the archives at a couture house.  You can see the entire design process for one of the finished garments and see sketches and mannequins displaying some of the pieces from the collection as well as watch some very old-fashioned fashion videos.

http://www.fondation-pb-ysl.net/en/Exhibitions-196.html

The 1971 collection was heavily critiqued because many felt Saint Laurent was glamorizing the Nazis and the

marvels of paris museum route

marvels of paris museum route

war was still fresh in the memories of the people who could afford couture.  Like Bowie, he was pushing boundaries and making people feel uncomfortable.

My final foray into European fashion was at the Palais Galleria Museé du Mode, a new addition to the wonders of Paris.  Until August 23, 2015 they are hosting an exhibit on Jeanne Lanvin.  I know the name but that was about it until I went to the exhibit.  The clothes are stunning – the antithesis of H&M.  She started as a milliner so there are lots of hats.  The clothes are sumptuous, full of embroidery, topstitching, cut-outs and other couturière virtuosity.  Nothing I would ever wear but easy to appreciate the craftsmanship.

http://www.palaisgalliera.paris.fr/en/exhibitions/jeanne-lanvin

What was most fascinating though was her business acumen.  She was a 19th century titan of commerce, a self-made woman in a world in which women couldn’t even legally vote in most places.  Apparently she was very customer-focused.  She was a real estate tycoon.  Jeanne started the whole craziness of dressing toddlers in mini-me designer clothing 🙂  She branched out into lingerie, menswear, interior design.  She created her own fragrance.  She opened shops to sell her wares to the public.  She had a distinctive logo.  Jeanne Lanvin knew how to brand herself before the concept was even a concept 🙂  An inspiring lady.

There is much to be inspired about right now so start making your travel plans…

 

p.s. if you are a fashion junkie, there is also a Jean Paul Gauthier exhibit at the Grand Palais – but I discovered it is closed on Tuesdays – but the walk to the other museums was worth it.

http://www.grandpalais.fr/en/event/jean-paul-gaultier

 

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