Thursday, December 01, 2016

After Thoughts

Sometimes coming home after a journey reminds us of the value of the place we are returning to. Even though this trip to a corner of Europe was a delight for me in so many ways, it was good to come home to our patch, the darling black dog,

the garden still providing tomatoes and squash, the neighbors and friends who make living here a true blessing and the beauty that is everywhere I look.

This is not to say that recent events haven't touched me. I'm lucky to live in this lovely bubble in Northern California, but I was not surprised that the national election went the way that it did. The drums of hate have been sounding for years. In California the former majority is now a minority and that doesn't sit well with some. Our area and much of our state has been able to climb up in the last eight years to the beginnings of prosperity again, but that is not true for large swaths of the U.S. There are still a whole lot of folks who feel like they didn't get invited to the party...and some used to party hearty.

Many have willfully come to the point where the truth is mutable, altered to fit our perspective no matter how illogical that might make it. Following the law or the Constitution or tradition is only done if those things match what you want to do. This is a scary, dangerous place to be. Consider what Timothy Snyder, the Housum Professor of History at Yale University writes about truth. "To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights." My wallet isn't very big. Better get some powerful sunglasses.

Although the president-elect, the standard bearer, the front man, is clearly, by his own words, racist, sexist, anti-gay, anti-disabled, anti-immigrant, a cheat and a liar, that doesn't necessarily mean that every person who voted for him has all those attributes themselves. I can't actually understand ever voting for someone who does have them, but democracy hasn't always made sense under the best of circumstances. Still, its what we have.

Spending the month of November writing about fun times abroad that happened before the national election has been a way of hunkering down to give myself some time to absorb the changes we are now seeing.

A hopeful sign in all of this is that more people are showing up, standing up, speaking out, putting their money...and time...where their mouth is. Some of the younger people in this country seem to finally understand that freedoms can't be taken for granted and, often, have to be re-won by generation after generation. Hope that this understanding lasts past the frenzy of Christmas and colors our actions in 2017. There will need to be steadfast action to counter all the hate. And I'm not talking about the kind of action that involves guns. Action to bring about less hate and more love is what is needed now.

Perhaps the younger Americans will find more time for volunteering now. The gray hairs have been despairing of who will take on the mantel of so many causes and good works, as they grow tired and die off. Perhaps large numbers of those who are shocked and those who are only somewhat pleased by the election outcome will also become involved year round, not just at election time, with the political parties, so that these parties more closely resemble the middle of the road where so many of us actually live. That would be an interesting change. A multitude of parties sounds good in theory, but we still currently have two major parties and they both need a sea change. We still need for love to trump hate.

I'm one of the gray hairs who already have volunteer commitments in the community and in the state of California. The work I help with influences lives across the country and looks to the future. If you have been sitting on the sidelines and want to now jump in, I'll tell you a get more out of volunteering than you put in. Not monetarily, of course, but try it, really give of yourself, even when it is inconvenient, and you'll see what I mean. Looking toward a better future, one good person at a time.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Big Church, Small Church, Big Church and Au Revoir

I wish that I could tell you that we enjoyed seeing inside Notre Dame Cathedral but the truth is that it was so crowded that we just couldn't bring ourselves to go inside. The photo above is from St. Chapelle.

The grand plaza in front of Notre Dame contained hundred of people, most of them trying to get a good photo of the place with all those other people in the way. I'll show you what I was able to capture.

We decided to try St. Chapelle since we had been told that it was lovely with late afternoon light on the copious stained glass panels. It is the Small Church and a jewel of a church, although not tiny by any means, just small in comparison to Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur.

You first enter the downstairs part which has richly painted walls and ceiling.

This beautiful church was build in the 13th century to hold a crown of thorns that King Louis IX believed Christ wore during his crucifixion.  Here is a photo of carved angels holding a crown of thorns.

His symbol and the symbol of his mother are everywhere. The stained-glass windows upstairs have more than 1,000 scenes with biblical stories from the Garden of Eden to the end of the world. If you have the time, you can rent a unit that will tell you about each one! The panels surround you with light and color. The overall impression is of opulence.

One of the interesting things is that this was the King's private chapel and to reach the upper level with all the stained-glass panels, you climb at tight circular stone stairway. The building was damaged during World War II and some bits and pieces of it still need to find their way home, like this gargoyle. 

I particularly liked the carvings near the front of the church 

and the carved pillar near the door into the chapel.

By the time we had finished viewing St. Chapelle I needed to find les toilettes. Even though it is not a place for tourists (a guidebook says 'law courts, not open to visitors'), it seemed to me that the Palais de Justice was a fine place to find a bathroom. I actually stopped a female judge and asked directions. She seemed a bit put off, but politely told me where to turn left and right. Fortunately I know those directions in French and the mission was accomplished. As we left I took a photo of the impressive gates, adorned with gold, that guard the Palais de Justice.

 I assure you that the facilities I used were not nearly as fancy, although very much appreciated.

By this time it was getting late and Thursday evening rush hour had started. We decided to try Uber. Bad idea. We had no history with them and the Ile de la Cite in rush hour is not a place you want to head to. We were lucky, however, that a cab pulled over and we decided to take the cab since the Uber driver never showed (although we were charged for the service anyway). The reason we were lucky is that the driver was Tony, a thoroughly enjoyable Greek fellow with a clean, comfortable car. Not only did he get us back to Montmartre fairly quickly, but he was willing to take us to the airport in two days for a flat fee.

Tony spoke English beautifully and Sweetie enjoyed discussing politics and getting the French perspective (since Tony has lived in Paris for 30 years) on issues that they were both interested in. True to his word, he phoned Friday night to confirm, phoned again a half hour before the appointed time on Saturday and got us to the airport in plenty of time Saturday morning, allowing another half hour during the drive to the airport for Sweetie and Tony to solve the problems of the world. No photo of Tony or the car (what was I thinking??) so you have to use your imagination.

Friday we visited Sacre Coeur (post HERE) and our local weekly market, right downstairs from our apartment.  It was fun walking around Montmartre and almost feeling like it was familiar.

You may want to click on the link above because it was posted on October 8th...a long time ago in my world. The visit to Sacre Coeur and to the harvest Fete was a delight.

Saturday we made sure we had everything packed, made the two trips down the elevator necessary to get us and our luggage to the ground floor, and said goodbye to Paris. I say 'au revoir' because I hope to see Paris again one day.

This is the last travel post for the fall trip to Boston, Ireland and France. I know that I'll revisit these posts when I feel like revisiting one of those places. As I paint some of the scenes in the coming year I'll post them so that you can see my interpretation of the sights of our delightful journey. Thanks for joining me.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

On And Near The Seine

It may have been a bit breezy as we left the Musee D'Orsay but the sky was a bright blue and the sun was shining.

A perfect day to enjoy some time on the water. Just across the street from the museum we went down some stairs where there was a ticket booth on the right where we purchased tickets for a boat ride...a hop on-hop off kind of boat. I think this may have been Sweetie's favorite part about our Paris trip...well, besides the croissants...and I enjoyed it a lot, too.

You get a completely different impression of the city from the water, with bridges crossing overhead and with other boats pulled up at the banks.

As we approached Isle de la Cite you could see that it was an island. It looked a bit like the prow of a ship since the tip of the island sliced into the middle of the Seine. In the photo below it is on the left. The photo of Notre Dame is from the Seine, too.

 We got off near Notre Dame Cathedral and wandered the stalls that stretch alongside the river at street level. There are old books and prints and some postcards. Many stalls were closed since it was a weekday, but I'll bet on a weekend that the sellers are out there with lots of oddities to discover.

We crossed the street to a cafe for some lunch and it was very peaceful.

Sweetie had a little time to study the travel book I was hauling around. I thought it might help make Notre Dame and St. Chappelle more interesting to know a little about them before we got to them. I was enjoying the people strolling outside, both near the cafe and near the river.

Next up will be some photos of Notre Dame and St. Chapelle and I'll tell you about Tony. Next time.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Savory Turkey Cobbler

I know some people who really prefer turkey leftovers to what we serve up on Thanksgiving. There are ecstatic tales of sandwiches packed with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce, sandwiches like my own that have the simplicity of bread, margarine, pepper and sliced turkey, grilled until the turkey is hot and the bread golden brown and crisp.

Another great thing to do with leftover turkey is to make a savory turkey cobbler or potpie. The difference between the two is really that cobbler has biscuit dough baked on top and potpie has pie pastry baked on top. It's the filling below those two that really makes this dish special. I make up my own recipe as I go along, but usually it begins with veggies. I start with chopped onion, diced celery, sliced carrot and diced red pepper. These veggies get sauteed in some olive oil, then I add sliced mushrooms and cook the mixture for a few minutes more, covered.

I make a gravy seasoned with pepper, salt, and sage, plus a little thyme. I cook red potatoes in slices until tender. I cube leftover turkey into bite sized pieces and mix up some biscuit dough.

While all of that was going on, the oven was pre-heating to 425 degrees F. The turkey goes into the gravy and gets heated through while I microwave some green beans and green peas. The drained potatoes and cooked veggies get mixed into the turkey mixture and the whole thing gets put into an ovenproof skillet (I use my trusty cast iron skillet). The biscuit dough gets distributed over the filling and the whole thing goes into the hot oven to bake until the biscuit topping is browned and the filling is bubbly.

This is true comfort food and perfect for a chilly night like the one we are having. Dig in and enjoy!

Savory Turkey Cobbler
Serves 4-6

2-3 red potatoes, scrubbed, halved and sliced (peel if you prefer)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped (more if you really like celery)
1 cup sliced carrots
1/2 cup diced red pepper
4 oz. sliced fresh mushrooms
1 1/2-2 cups cubed (bite-sized) cooked turkey or chicken
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) margarine (or butter)
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) flour
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon rubbed/dried sage
1 cup turkey or chicken stock
3/4 cup soy creamer (or milk or half and half)
1 cup fresh thin green beans, steamed
1 cup frozen peas, cooked
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons Bisquick
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon soy creamer (or milk or half and half)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Heat olive oil in a large heavy pan and saute the onion, celery, carrots, and red pepper, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and continue cooking and stirring another 5 minutes.

While vegetables are cooking, in another saucepan, melt the margarine. When melted add the flour and stir to combine. Add the herbs and stir for 2 minutes over medium heat to cook the flour. Combine the stock and creamer in a measuring cup. Whisking constantly, add the stock mixture quickly and keep whisking to blend the flour mixture and stock mixture. Raise the heat to medium-high and keep whisking until mixture thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and add the turkey, cooked onion mixture, cooked beans and cooked peas. Stir well to combine.

Put turkey filling into a heatproof skillet. In a medium bowl combine the Bisquick and the soy creamer (or make your favorite drop biscuit dough). Place tablespoons of dough over the top of the filling until used up. Filling will show through.

Bake in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes or until topping is lightly browned and filling mixture is bubbly.

Serve at once.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Tourist Time

It can be fun to be a tourist, especially in Paris. For most of the people riding the Metro from Pigalle (a few blocks away from the Anvers station) station towards the Seine, it is a normal working day, so the ride is nothing special. For us it was nerve wracking/exciting to figure out that the line we wanted to take to the Eiffel Tower was accessed most easily from the Pigalle station. We followed arrows through a few subterranean tunnels to the correct platform, then enjoyed being whisked towards the river and past it.

Because I couldn't figure out how we were going to get from the Eiffel Tower to the Musee D'Orsay and because the line we were on had a station near the Musee D'Orsay, we skipped the Eiffel Tower and went straight to the museum. Sometimes the path of least resistance is the best. This museum has been on my bucket list a long time.

Outside of the museum there is an enormous plaza. It had hardly anyone in it, so I was able to get a photo of Sweetie with the museum behind and he took one of me. The Musee D'Orsay building used to be a train station and the architecture is fascinating. One can see rivets and rosettes together, which is not common.

I love the clock face that you can see through.

I was able to see across the river, across much of Paris. After I went out on the terrace at that level I could and all the way to our neighborhood and the Sacre Coeur.

 The first floor has beautiful classical marble statues and art students carrying on a grand tradition of sketching those statues.

Upstairs we found what I most wanted to see, the Impressionists paintings. A series of connecting halls are hung with about 20 paintings per wall. There are also glass cases with small Degas bronzes

and the occasional large bronze dancer.

There were relatively few people, so it was possible to stand in front of a painting for a few minutes before anyone else wanted to. Sometimes there was someone there, so I came back later and took my own photo.

Compare that to the usual experience in the U.S. where these kinds of paintings become the excuse for a 'Blockbuster' event, with tickets sold so that hundreds are wanting to be in front of a painting at any given moment. That was the case when I saw this Monet plein-air painting of Femme a l'ombrelle tournee. There were many people between me and the painting then and no one when I saw it in Paris.

For an artist one of the astounding things is that you can get a few inches away from the painting. No touching of course, but being so close I was able to really see the brushwork and how thin or thick the paint was applied and how much the color was mixed and how much was a combination of two or more colors next to each other. For instance, this Cezanne was interesting because the paint was so thin that the canvas texture was very visible.

The brushwork on this Monet was almost pointillist, very different than the long strokes of paint in the lady with the umbrella.

I was taking so much time with all of this that poor Sweetie eventually just found a comfortable chair and rested. He knew that this was one of the highlights of the trip for me. I'm lucky he is a patient guy. I took more photos of the paintings, too, but this post is getting pretty long without putting them all up.

On the way out we saw this fine bronze fellow. He immediately made me think of my youngest sister. She loves the big cats...and big dogs, too.

Next time we'll take a ride on the Seine and see some more tourist sights.