Goodbye, Partout 2017

Year-end
In the great American tradition of year-end top-10 lists, Doris and Louis are saying goodbye to 2017 with our … top 5. Each. After all, 5 + 5 = 10 and, after being together non-stop for two and a half months, there has to be something we don’t negotiate.

We excluded destinations we visit because family members live there since nothing on earth could be better than being where your loved ones live, riiiiight? Travels that came too early in the year to make the newborn Partout counted.

Before the drumroll, we want to thank you all for coming along virtually and ask you to share your favorite experiences all over the place in 2017. It’s not all about us — really! Post a comment on the blog or on Facebook or email us with what you came up with from your own travels near and far.

Until then, without further ado….
drumroll 3


#5 for Louis: Sandpoint, Idaho
“Because of the friends I met and the beauty of the place and because I feel we have a home there. I like the weather and the different type of life. For the first time in a long, long, long time, I enjoyed the difference between a peaceful small town and a big city.”

Sandpoint

That would be Sandpoint’s Lake Pend d’Oreille from Sandpoint’s Schweitzer ski mountain. The town nestles on the shoreline below.

#5: Doris – the Netherlands (beyond Groningen)
(since Groningen would violate the family exclusion)

To be honest, the Netherlands was never on Doris’s hit list until the Fuller3 moved there. However, familiarity is breeding affection. There really is something about all that Dutch gezellig. Whether it’s the Vermeer Museum of Delft, the cheese of Gouda, the canals of Amsterdam or the primates of Apenheul, there’s just a lot to discover and enjoy.

Alpenhal

You just never know what (or who) you will come across in the Netherlands


#4 for Louis: California
We were nearly a month in California in the spring while the Sandpoint house was in its early stages of rehabilitation and uninhabitable in the process. Louis found the variety and experience of visiting San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and the wild coast highway north of there all in one year, interesting and different.

North Coast

Driving north on Coast Highway 101. (Yes, water is a theme in Louis’s favorites.)

#4 for Doris: Paris at Christmas
With all its lights and many friends, Paris made it possible to experience the season more weightlessly than in the other Christmases since Natalie died. A nice relief that was also a sensory and social feast. And that’s all without factoring in the food.

Tour at night

Louis can’t get enough of water. Doris can’t get enough of the Eiffel out the window.


#3 for Louis: Paris
Louis says, “I feel a bit at home here. It’s within my culture and language. I like to shop for food in Paris — the displays, the knowledge of food, the conversations you have around it. It is different from anywhere in the world. And we spent time with friends, so we were able to share it all. In Paris, whatever weather it is, even in terrible weather, we still have places to go and so much to see.”

La Defense

La Defense on the horizon from the top of the Arc de Triomphe

#3 for Doris: Andalusia 
You probably have to go to Istanbul to find another European city where two great cultures and their art and architecture go back so far and have bloomed so intensely as they have in Andalusia. Throw in world-changing history, yummy regional food, good wine and sunny skies, and Southern Spain (visited twice in 2017 for nearly six weeks altogether) is hard to top.

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Columbus may have died in poverty, but he is entombed in splendor in Seville


#2 for Louis: Lisbon
“Porque no?” It was a shock how different Lisbon was than what we expected. We were out every day exploring new neighborhoods. The hills, the access to the sea. Lisbon wasn’t bombed during the war so it is unchanged for a long time. Plus, there is a lot to see in towns nearby. And then there is the food and wine.

Portugal

Portugal’s Manueline architecture was a constant source of discovery and pleasure

#2 for Doris: Lisbon
(looks like there’s a return trip cooking for Portugal)

Lisbon was the biggest surprise of the year’s many travels for Doris. Friends who had grown up in three different countries all agreed over dinner in Paris that Portugal’s profound impact as a colonial power and distinctive artistic and other traditions were largely overlooked in our childhood educations. Along with its welcoming locals, amazing octopus and great wines, this makes the country a discovery in a way few European countries remain at this point in our travels.

Lisboa

This is a postcard image but, yes, this is Lisbon

 


#1 for Louis: Andalusia
It’s endless what we can see and discover, in good weather, with good food.

Andalusia

Tales from the Alhambra still are being told

#1 for Doris: Sandpoint, Idaho
It may not be exotic, but Sandpoint’s natural beauty can hold its own with any place we visited in 2017 (see Louis’s photo above) and, for Doris, there was no place like home. Despite the rigors of remodeling and all the other complications, the nearly four months we spent settling into our future summer retreat, surrounded by near and dear friends and visited by faraway family and friends, could not be topped.

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Sandpoint has to be great. Louis still named it one of his top 5 after all this!


In the rearview mirror

Of course, nothing can top a family destination. 2017 was a rare year for Partout because we saw all our immediate family members in their homes in three countries on two continents.

  • St. Petersburg, Florida, to see Joelle and Chris
  • Montreal, Quebec, to see Antoine
  • Groningen, the Netherlands, to see Greg, Carole and Abby
  • Trinidad, California, to see Doris’s brother Rick and his wife Suzie

Coming soon: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, Zanzibar, Serengeti, Nairobi, Mombasa, Sicily (and that’s before spring)

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As if by magic, freshly plucked flowers appeared on the kitchen island in Sandpoint every morning, all the hard summer long

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

 

 

 

 

Louis: Artist or Outlaw?

cafe Louvre , PRAHA – Version 2
It has been a revelation traveling with a man who makes art out of life: a fruit basket, dead birds, a bicycle wheel and, maybe most arrestingly, people going about their everyday lives in ways, yes, visually interesting but also somehow representative of some aspect of the human condition.

In France, it turns out, there is now a law against this. The prohibition has been on the books since 1980 and is blamed for the near-death of street photography in a country where photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson elevated street photography to museum art.

As the record shows, this has not stopped Louis, but it has made for some interesting moments in Paris.

More on the moments shortly. First, how Louis works.


“Can I take your picture?”

The first revelation about Louis’s street portraits has been that the vast majority of people – male and female, young and old, couples and singles, beautiful and not so much – are perfectly happy to have their photos taken by a total stranger, even their children’s photos and especially their pet’s photos.

Some are the people who clearly want to attract attention to themselves. The three below fit into that category. Louis does not even have to explain himself to them. He just says, “Can I take your picture?” and they invariably say, “Of course!”
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Only slightly more challenging are ordinary people just being themselves. With them, Louis typically starts with a compliment: “Your scarf is beautiful!” “You are such a handsome couple!” “You are wearing such a gorgeous color!” And then “Can I take your picture?”

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Happy to cooperate (clockwise): Couple in World War II dress in the Alfama, Lisbon; July Fourth celebrants in Sandpoint, Idaho; natural beauty in Ramallah on the West Bank; aging dandy in Cádiz, Spain; Dutch toddler in Groningen

Sometimes, there is initial reluctance to pose but, after 40 years of practice, Louis is good at overcoming it. This couple on a street in Prague caught our eye because of the man’s abundant facial hair. The woman was immediately agreeable, the man more reticent. In the end, Louis’s enthusiasm for the sideburns and the wife’s eagerness to share them won out.
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Very rarely, people say, “No,” and no talk is sweet enough to move them. The Orthodox priest in Bethlehem and the woman with the sensuous braid in Seville are examples.

The woman was sitting down a bench from us in Plaza Nueva. Louis had already shot her braid from behind but wanted a full portrait of her in her colorful street wear. “Can I take your picture?” he asked. “No,” she said. “I don’t like having my picture taken.” No, even if her face was not in the photo. No no and no. So, no it was. (Louis did snap a photo of her walking away, as if to have the last word.)


Sometimes you get lucky

Luck plays a part in some of the best of these photos. The man at the top of this Partout happened to be walking upstairs in a Prague restaurant where we happened to be walking down. The stairwell happened to be pasted with the historic view of belle epoch Paris. The man happened to be dressed as if he had just walked out of the mural and was so lost in his own thoughts, he did not notice us. We three happened to be the only people on the stairs.

Click.

Louis wanted this shot because it was so evocative – the man in the beret and long coat sweeping up the grand staircase with Paris in the background. We who carry cameras all have taken photos like this in our minds about 10 seconds after the opportunity to do it. Louis takes them in real time, over and over.

The same applies to the couple kissing at a nearby table in a brasserie where we had dinner with old CBC buddy Don Murray and his wife Vera one night. Romance in Paris is a stereotype, but some stereotypes endure for a reason. Click.
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Sometimes luck is in the time of day or weather. Louis took this photo of Doris at lunch in a Groningen café not because Doris is so interesting (he just reaffirmed: “This had nothing to do with you”) but because of the composition created by the bespectacled man absorbed in his newspaper in the background and the way the filtered noon light coming through the window fell on us. Click.
Man in background

Of course, behind all this luck is the maxim that the harder you work, the luckier you get. Louis worked for 40 years to be lucky enough to get this shot during a 2014 visit to Paris. Any of us would have aimed a camera at it, but it takes more than luck to pull the shot off, in focus, as the driver shifts into gear and turns into the street.
Dog on moto


Artist or Outlaw?

The first clue that Parisians might be less agreeable about being photographed living their lives than other nationalities came from a shot not intended to be a portrait photograph at all. Walking on Paris’s Coulée Verte René-Dumont (model for the Highline Canal in NYC) with our friend Eric, Louis found this set of architectural twins visually interesting and stopped to shoot them. The man emerging from between them was as unimportant as I was in the Groningen café.
Building in Paris
Hours later, when he downloaded the complete burst of photos he shot at the building, Louis learned the unimportant man apparently considered himself quite relevant.
Version 5 CROP AND EDITEDWe took the gesture for Parisian drollery and thought little more about it until, a day later, on the Metro to Montmartre.

We were sitting next to the train door when a man in a bowler hat who could have just walked out of a Magritte painting boarded and took a seat across the aisle from us. Doris’s role at moments like this is to get out of the way, and she has become expert at it. By leaning back as far as possible, she opened this unobstructed view.
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Louis shoots with a Leica D-Lux 109, so small and unassuming that he looks like any other tourist with a point-and-shoot. Typically, he has only a heartbeat or to to capture classics like this one. Subjects move out of the shot or bypassers move into it. On this long train ride, he had time to focus and improve. Click click click.

When the train came to the next station, the man remained in his seat, but a woman sitting nearby moved to the door. Passing us on the way, she leaned down and hissed, “Ce que vous faite c’est interdit en France.” What you are doing is illegal in France. To which Louis muttered in my ear, “Tell that to Henri Cartier-Bresson.”

Two hostile reactions in two days begged for an explanation, and the internet stood ready to answer. From a 2013 New York Times article, we learned that France has some of the strictest privacy laws in the world, including Article 9, a provision of the civil code that states, “Everyone has the right to respect for his private life.”

What exactly constitutes a private life apparently remains a matter of judicial interpretation, but the impact of the law has been sufficiently chilling that France’s minister of culture at the time had taken the position it was “unacceptable to prevent professional photographers from sharing their vision of the world with future generations” and vowed to get the article repealed. (Not coincidentally a lawyer and a photographer, Aurélie Filippetti appears not to have gotten far and is now gone).

“Without them, our society doesn’t have a face,” Filippetti had said in a magazine interview. “Because of this law, we run the risk of losing our memory.”

Consider the photo below, which Louis took on the streets of Manhattan going on half a century ago. At the time, the chief interest was the contrast between the matron applying lipstick and the ingenue on the shopping bag. That contrast remains interesting today but now the scene is also a snapshot of a time and style that has passed.
NYC 1977
With the global internet and the growing sophistication of face recognition and in a time when “publishing” takes a thousand forms, street photography unquestionably raises privacy issues that did not exist for Carter-Bresson and other legendary artists, as well as newsmen and other professionals who take street photographs. Losing our history in pictures must not be the solution.


A Happy Memory

Even in Paris, though, it is not all middle fingers and hissing Metro riders.

Walking a back street of the Marais one recent day, we passed the woman below. For reasons that are obvious, she prompted an instant “Can I take your picture?” from Louis.

A doting dog owner, woman assumed he was interested in her charming purse pooch. “Oh, dear. I have just cut his hair and it is too short here,” she said, fussing with the hairs above his eyes.

“No,” said Louis, gesturing at her. “I want you, too. You look so lovely.”

She paused only briefly before starting to laugh.

“Of course!” she chortled. “The beret! The scarf! The baguette! The dog! I am such a cliché!”
Camambert lady

She stopped fussing with the dog’s hair and patiently smiled while Louis worked on a shot with all of her and the dog looking good. Satisfied at last, he thanked her.

D’accord,” she smiled, giving a little wave of her baguette. “And now I’ll just be off for my Camembert.”


In the rear-view mirror:

  • Musée de Montmarte: On our first visit to Montmartre in decades for an exhibition on how the village has been depicted in film over the last hundred years, we were able to prowl the atelier of an artist from Montmartre’s heyday. Who wouldn’t be inspired?
    Montmartre
  • Christmas Eve and all that jazz:  With our friends Christiane and Patrice (waving in the door below), we spent Christmas Eve in a packed jazz club near Les Halles hearing a fabulous quartet.
    Jazz Patrice
  • Eiffel, morning, noon and night: One of the treats in our exchange house is the Eiffel Tower being the last thing we see from bed in the morning and the last thing at night. It’s beginning to feel like an old friend.
    Eiffel mnn

COMING SOON: Goodbye, Partout 2017

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Feliz Boas Joyeux

Food
As Christmas night draws to a close in Paris, we send you a few of our favorite scenes as captured by Louis’s lens this holiday season on the road.

Though Christmas trees were being decked and Christmas songs (mostly American) were being blasted in Spain by Thanksgiving back home, it was only in Lisboa in December that the lights came on. And shiny and bright they were.

Lisboa - Baxia

Street artist under the lights in Lisboa

Lisboa - sardines

Lighting above the fantastic world of Portuguese sardines

Lisbon - king's cake

Seasonal king’s and queen’s cakes 

In Prague, it was not just the markets that were festive.

At the Church of the Infant Jesus of Prague (the same church with the robes and crowns of the baby Jesus), a collection of crèches was on display. The one below was prominently labeled CANADA because … what says Canadian Christmas more than shepherds at an igloo?
Prague - Eskimos
Store windows everywhere held eye candy.

Prague

In Prague

Paris windows

In Paris

Trees abounded, for sale and just for show.

 

Trees

At city hall (top), on the sidewalks, in department stores.

It could be hard to make our way through the marchés with so much beautiful food competing for Louis’s attention – the fruit platters (top), the joyeux fowl, the seafood.

Birds

Somehow “happy holidays” from a dead bird seems to miss the mark but it’s memorable

 

Oysters

Louis believes there is no such thing as too many oysters (or oyster pictures)

All were photographed with pleasure and are sent to you today with warmest wishes and good cheer.

Eiffel

That would be the view from our bed.

Coming soon: Louis: Artist or Outlaw?

 

Paris - Hanakuh

A sharp eye and long lens could find reminders that Christmas is not the only holiday of the season

 

 

 

Christmas Shopping in Paris

Oyster taste
Paris did not get the memo about toning down the Christmas ho-ho-ho.

In the grand boulevards and the winding side streets, from legendary department stores to humble street vendors, it’s as if every North Pole image has been packaged up and exported to Paris for the month. In Printemps alone, there are 162 Christmas trees (two of them more than 30 feet tall) decked with 37,114 ornaments, 23,628 flowers, 6,342 birds and 900 electric garlands. It’s a wonder there is anything left for the rest of the world.

Joyeux Noël – the equivalent of “Merry Christmas” is seen and heard everywhere. There are occasional “Happy holidays,” but the phrase is almost invariably spoken by shopkeepers or painted on shop windows, not used in ordinary speech. What is not heard anywhere is Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, which is itself almost sufficient reason to spend Christmas in Paris.

But it’s not just the abundance of red, green, white snow, mistletoe, lights and all the rest that make for the Christmas eye candy here. It is the elan and detail of the joyeux noël decorations at every level. It’s not surprising a high-end retailer like Yves Rocher would decks its walls elaborately.
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But consider our neighborhood fruit stand, where miniature Christmas presents nestle in the clementines, Christmas bells dangle among the mangoes, and Santas Claus hang out with the grapes.
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And then there are les grands magasins – the great department stores that are the grandes dames of Christmas ornamentation.

Paris is where the department store was born in the 1800s. There is even a “Grands Magasins” Metro stop for the great stores that Zola wrote a novel about almost 150 years ago. Manhattan may have its Bergdorf Goodman and Saks on Fifth Avenue, but Paris has bumper-to-bumper designers on the Champs Élysées, Printemps and Galleries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann, the BHV on the right bank of the Seine, Bon Marché on the left. At Christmas, their windows dance with a lot more than sugar plums.

The best of the windows are not just visual delights but narratives – window-by-window stories acted out by automated marionettes for children little and big. Our favorites are the 11 windows at Printemps, where the theme this year is … travel!

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The intrepid explorer tiptoes among perfume bottles as a train chugs underfoot….

The story is that two adventurous children leave home on a search for the greatest presents in the world. As depicted by 70 animated marionettes, they ride trains, planes, boats and sleds in order to reach Printemps in the middle of the night.

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The explorer wing walks with bears

When they arrive at last, they find the greatest presents in the world, all ready to be purchased inside (and delivered to buyers’ homes free with a minimum purchase of 600€).

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Forget the purple camel. Surely someone on your list needs a Fendi bag or Lalique fish

To make it easier for the big children looking at the windows to race inside instantly for those 3495€ Jimmy Choo crystal shoes, many of the gift items are identified, with their prices, in discrete window price tags.
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But window shopping itself is free and festive. For little children, there are wee steps to knee-high platforms that bring them nose-to-nose with the displays.
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Meanwhile, bigger children fight their way to a view through the crowd.

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There’s always one in every crowd who can’t resist looking straight into the camera

Though distance from family has taken us mostly out of the Christmas shopping rigors this year, that doesn’t mean we are sitting out the shopping season altogether. We can shop for oysters, for example. Paris Insider Guide says oysters are to the French at Christmas what turkey is to Americans. This sounds like a stretch (it would be hard to stuff an oyster), but there is no question that buying oysters in Paris is quite a different matter than buying them anywhere else Doris has been. First, they are everywhere: in the markets and on the sidewalks, in front of bakeries, supermarkets, corner grocers. Filling baskets, bins and plastic tubs. Elegant and inelegant.
Oysters for sale
Show an interest in the crusty little crustaceans, and the vendor is liable to pop one open and feed it to you on the spot. That’s what Louis is doing at the top of the blog. Free oyster tasters?! In the great tradition of “When in Rome,” we are sampling and eating as many as we can. Oysters for both lunch and dinner? Pourquoi non?

Oyster touch

Lunch at home when in Paris (wine not pictured)

This being France, the food opportunities do not stop with the oysters. For four days over the weekend, more than 90 producers of chocolate, wine, foie gras, caviar and other regional delicacies exhibited and handed out samples of their edibles at Noël Gourmand, which literally translates into something involving Christmas gluttony but doesn’t come off that way in the French. Sandwiches of pig nose, chestnut jam, wines bottled in releases of no more than 1,500 bottles, macaroons prepared with the same recipe used for Catherine de Medici’s wedding in 1533. Gluttony or discriminating taste? We Christmas shopped a little for ourselves without considering the question too deeply.

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Apple juice, cognac and artisan cheeses, oh, my

For the most part, though, we are happy to sit out the shopping. Aside from the crowds and distance from loved ones, with prices like this, who could blame us?

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There will be no bouche in our noël at $15 per serving nor Kitchen Aid robot a patisserie under the tree at $780

In the rear-view mirror:

  • Dinners with dear old friends. We should do a better job of getting our friends in front of the camera because they have already showered us with many hours of friendship, food and fun. Picture us happy to be reunited with Odile and Eric, Christiane and Patrice, Don and Vera and Françoise and André-Claude.
  • Voices like angels. The Choeur d’Enfants Sotto Voce is a choir of 60 children ages 8-18 we saw perform Christmas music in the Grand Palais. Memorable.
  • Les marchés. We are always sucker for the open markets that give us a glimpse of how the French cook and eat at home.

Coming soon: Merry, Feliz, Joyeux
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For Sports Fans Only

Version 2
Partout ended up at a HC Sparta hockey game in Prague because – in the great tradition of “when in Rome” – Doris said, “We should see if there is a hockey game while we are here.” Sure enough, the proud Spartans were taking the ice Sunday at 3 pm. Louis said “Proč ne?!” or the French or English equivalent of “Why not?!” and off we went.

Louis’s principle interest was in hockey. Doris’s was in the tribal behavior of Czech hockey fans. Neither was disappointed (the caveat emptor offered because only a sports fan would find such arcana remotely of interest).

Maybe the most dramatic difference we found between Czech hockey and the NHL came at the first step of going to the game: buying tickets. Tickets three rows off the ice at center-rink cost $17 each. Of course, Czech players earn something slightly north of $100,000/year on average, while the NHL annual average is $2.4 million, so that may play a part. For us, it felt like Christmas had come early, and that was before we got to the game and discovered that beer was $2 a cup.

Security check practices were in effect, just like in the U.S., and Louis’s selfie stick flunked. Having never tried to take a selfie stick into a pro game, we have no idea if they are banned everywhere but, in Prague, he was ordered to back out of line and check the stick for the game, a privilege for which he paid about a quarter in Czech koruna.

Louis found the game pretty much the same as in the NHL except that nearly every penalty (and there were a bunch) was called for hooking; not a single call resulted from slashing, roughing, fighting, misconduct or a body-blow of any kind. There was a bit of manly elbowing and glowering, but they were positively gentlemanly by NHL standards.

Some fan and team practices and rituals turned out to be pretty universal but not all.

As in U.S. sports, the arena’s name had been sold to the highest bidder (O2, a mobile telephone provider), and branding was everywhere, especially on the players.

Billa

BILLA is a supermarket chain and gets top BILLing on Sparta jerseys

Men clearly outnumbered women in the stands; Doris didn’t even encounter lines in the women’s loo. The sections behind the goals were reserved for uber-fans, where everyone seemed to be wearing team colors and carrying team paraphernalia.

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The Verva Litvínov wore yellow and black. Note all the BILLA advertising.

No arena or stadium is complete without a Jumbotron, and O2 was no exception. Cameras picked out happy fans in the stands, especially children, who waved frantically when they spotted themselves on the big screen. Fan quizzes were broadcast during breaks in the action, and pizzas appear to have been awarded for perfect scores. Replays and fan messages played all game long.

Jumbo

We might have been in Prague, but a period is still a “period”

The team even had a mascot (a Spartan warrior), who made animated appearances on the Jumbotron whenever there was a penalty or a score.

mascot

Czechs see themselves sharing a fighting spirit with Spartans of old

There were cheerleaders, though the NHL definitely did not produce their costumes.

Cheerleaders

The big costume change between periods was into a different t-shirt

The approach to fan cheering was also noticeably different. The home team had what we called in high school a pep band – drummers and a trumpeter, who pretty much performed non-stop the whole game except when things were going really badly. They led the fans in well, the same cheers from Doris’s high school football game days … in English!?!

DRUM, DRUM, DRUMDRUMDRUM, DRUMDRUMDRUMDRUM … LET’S GO! There was also a lot of We will, we will, rock you. Also in English.

When either team scored a goal, fans and cheerleaders held uniform team scarves over their heads.
TowelBut perhaps the strangest difference to Doris, who has been to more than a few sports events in her life, was in the seating, eating and drinking practices of the Sparta fans.

First, nobody left their seats during the action. Fans were managed like theater-goers: You either got to your seat before the face off or you waited in the lobby until there was a break in the action. Presumably as a result, once the play started, the aisles were absolutely empty; nobody came or went. Presumably, also as a result, during the breaks between periods, everyone left their seats.

Zambonis

Zambonis are universal, but an emptied arena during intermissions seemed more local.

Maybe this influenced the second surprising behavior: There wasn’t much eating or drinking going on. We spied one bag of popcorn down the row, but nary a peanut or pretzel or nacho, and the concession stands didn’t seem to be selling anything but those. No Czech sausages with mustard, no chimney cakes. For that matter, not much beer was in evidence. Each seat had two drink-holders, but – in a city with no apparent open-container law and people walking around or in outdoor cafes swigging cold beer even when it is snowing – there seemed to be at least as many Coke cups as beer cups in the holders and not all that many of those. It was as if people actually went to see the game.

Alas, the home team went down in defeat but, win or lose, the players lined up for ritual handshakes in the middle of the ice.

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Just like in the U.S., the home fans beat a fast retreat from their seats in defeat.

With no dog in the fight, Louis had happily cheered for every goal, no matter who scored it. Given that there were nine goals in all (Sparta lost 6-3), it all made for a very happy afternoon. We collected the selfie stick and headed to the Metro with a vow to try to catch local sporting events whenever we can when on the road.

Coming soon: Christmas Shopping in Paris

Statues

Public art outside the O2 Arena in Prague recognizes more than hockey

 

 

Dressing Baby Jesus in Prague

Baby Jesus outside
Traveling for such a long stretch – five months – and staying for at least a week and usually longer in each landing spot changes how we spend our time all over the place and thus what we see.

For example, in Seville, there was only one real can’t-miss tourist destination on our agenda for our entire nine-day stay – the Alcazar – and we managed to miss it. That’s the downside of “we’ve got lots of time”: With so much of it, we kept following our feet elsewhere until we had none left at all. The upside is space for treats like spending a day sailing with Columbus in Cadiz, ferrying to lunch in Cacilhas and training to Sintra twice in the same week, just because we could.

Prague should have been another matter. With barely 72 hours of sightseeing time in the fairy-tale capital city, this was the one destination where we needed to shift into commando-tourist mode and hit the ground early and hard each day.

Instead, we found ourselves so hooked on our newfound serendipity that we kept wandering off the better-beaten path. Sure, we ogled the gorgeous architecture
Architecture
and wandered through the famous Christmas markets, eating grilled sausage and swigging cold beer with the other bazillion tourists.
Beer and brat
But we skipped the cathedral because the line was long and because, with still another month to go in Europe, it’s easy to say, “There’s always another church.”

Which is how we ended up in the Discalced Carmelite Church of Our Lady Victorious in Malá Strana (pictured at top), gaping at elaborate baby clothes.

We were drawn into the Discalced Carmelite Church of Our Lady Victorious in Malá Strana – the Church of the Infant Jesus of Prague for short – because we were cold.

Cold

Greg and Carole say there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes. Despite the minimum of exposed skin here, the clothes were not good enough to beat the cold in Prague.

Having skipped the cathedral, we had walked a couple miles around the royal gardens, gone to the top of the Petřín Lookout Tower in stiff winds, shivered down the hill in the unheated funicular and then set off in the vague direction of the city center through the Lesser Quarter. Seriously, you only end up in what is literally called the Lesser Quarter if you are off the beaten path. It was literally freezing, and the occasional flake was blurring our vision. When we came upon the Church of the Infant Jesus’s bigger-than-life nativity scene on display, complete with real donkeys and lambs and the promise of shelter, we popped in to warm up.

Being a European church of some age (400 years), the interior was impressive, though in a darker, more somber style than either the gilt churches of Spain, where gold was once more common than running water, or the fanciful confections of Manueline Portugal. We wandered, marveled, took photos, sent an electronic postcard from a snazzy digital station, regained circulation in our fingers and were just about to leave when we spotted a stream of people heading up a narrow spiral staircase just off the altar, with no ticket taker in sight. (Another side effect of traveling for so long: cheap and free attractions take on new allure.)

Joining the stream, the stairs at first seemed merely to wind past a series of photographs of a baby Jesus icon and the occasional Mary or Jesus statue.

Eventually, though, we reached a tiny, darkened room lined with glass display cases, each filled with elaborate clothing, all the same size. Robes, we learned from the excellent signage, robes for the infant Jesus. Those photos on the staircase leading to the display room? The baby Jesus statue in a few of its 300-plus robes.

The Church of the Infant Jesus of Prague, it turns out, is home of a 16th-century wax-coated wooden statue of baby Jesus known as the Bambino di Praga. A gift from Spain, legend has it the 19-inch statue once belonged to Teresa of Avila. It is credited with saving Prague from invading Swedish armies in 1639 and widely believed in the Catholic world to have miraculous powers. Its habitation in the Discalced Carmelite Church of Our Lady Victorious in Malá Strana has made Prague one of the major pilgrimage centers in Central Europe.

One of the traditions that has grown up around the statue is changing its clothing according to the liturgical season, a ritual carried out by the Carmelite nuns of the church.
Dressing baby
Over the years, the baby Jesus’s wardrobe has been expanded by gifts from around the world, including robes embroidered with gold bullion and bejeweled in pearls and diamonds. Empress Maria Theresa, among many other devotees of stations high and low, are the donors. The robe on the right below is nearly as old as the church itself.

In addition to its robes, the icon’s closet includes three crowns. Since 2009, the statue has permanently worn a crown garnished with pearls and garnets gifted by Pope Benedict XVI during a papal visit.

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This is the crown the baby wore for nearly a century until the Pope’s gift replaced it for everyday wear

On the first Sunday of May each year, the baby Jesus is dressed in coronation robes and crown in observance of the salvation of Prague and paraded through the city’s streets.

Whenever we are satisfied with straying off the better-beaten path, we congratulate ourselves with the refrain, Ça vaut le detour. Worth the detour. We may have missed the cathedral, but we were content again with what serendipity brought us in its place.

Also in the rear-view mirror:

  • Christmas market. The highly touristic market itself was not exactly our cup of tea, but that didn’t stop it from being our mug of grog, taste of heavenly trdelnik (chimney cake) hot off the coals or feast for the eyes.
    Market collage
  • Hockey!? Hockey is second only to football in the hearts of Czechs. For a taste of local life, we spent one afternoon off the tourist path at the O2 Arena, watching the HC Sparta Prague lose in a great match against HC VERVA Litvínov.

    Hockey

    The play was more or less the same. Not so the fandom.

  • Meat! By the time we left Portugal and three weeks of seafood binging, we were ready for some meat. Prague did not disappoint.
    IMG_2605

    That would be a pig knee floating in a pool of mustard and horse radish.

    Coming soon: For Sports Fans Only

Castle,Charles bridge, old town

The Charles Bridge and Prague at night from one bridge away

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those Romantic Portuguese

La Pena colors
Reach for a word to pair with “Portuguese” and what do you come up with?

Until our week in Lisbon, we were pretty much stuck at “seafaring” (Vasco de Gama, etc.) and “man o war” (a jellyfish-like sea creature also known as “floating terror”).

By the end of our week, we had added another: “romantic.” Not “romantic” as in hearts and flowers (or Louis and Doris) but romantic as in a distinctive style so idealized it evokes Disneyland’s magic kingdom, except this one is real.

Sintra city hall

If this couldn’t be the city hall of Disneyland, what else could? (In reality, it is Sintra’s.)

Some of this comes down to something called “Manueline” style, Portugal’s extravagant take on late Gothicism, which already was pretty extravagant before the Portuguese got their hands on it. Since we had never heard of Manuelism before this month, we will leave the details to Wikipedia and actual authorities. For the purposes of explaining Louis’s images, suffice it to say the style is named for King Manuel I of Portugal, and it is indigenous and unique to the country he ruled. Its architectural reign of not even 30 years barely outlasted Manuel himself (d: 1521), yet the landscape in and around Lisbon is strewn with its confections.

We did not set out to learn any of this when we began traipsing around Lisbon but Manuel’s eponymous legacy fast becomes inescapable.

Belém Tower, for example, was built as a fortress (and a very effective one at that), but its style was Manueline. With its curves and flourishes like the rhinoceros gargoyle (not pictured), is there any doubt this stronghold is romantic?
Belum

Many an invasion plan literally sank as a result of this World Heritage site.

Down the river from the fortress in Belém, the Jerónimos Monastery reigns from a hillside, another World Heritage site.

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In the cloisters, the Manueline design makes lacework out of stone.

Jerone cloisers

That’s a sailing ship in tiles halfway down the refectory wall. Nautical and ocean images are characteristic of the Manueline style.

In the church of the monastery, two national heroes are prominently entombed. One is native son Vasco de Gama, the first European to sail to India. The second is the Luís Vaz de Camões, a romantic poet. What country gives equal billing to its poets and its adventurers? Only a romantic one.

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De Camões is the Shakespeare of Portugal. His epic work, Os Lusiadás (the Lusiads), chronicles de Gama’s discovery of the sea route to India.

But the hottest bed of Portuguese romanticism on our visit was Sintra, about 15 miles and 40 minutes by cheap train from Lisbon. Sintra is the site of so much Manuelism and neo-Manuelism (a 19th-century flash to the past) that the tourist magnet is simply called “Romantic Sintra.”

Here, the World Heritage La Pena Palace perches on the highest point above town in full fanciful bloom. Considered one of the most significant expressions of 19th-century Romanticism in the world, La Pena is a legacy of the Austria-born King Ferdinand II, whose only instruction was that the palace should reflect an opera. The city of Sintra itself describes the palace as a “hedonistic mix of vividly painted terraces, decorative battlements and mythological statues.”
Pena panorama

Pena detail 3

 Pena detail 1
The Moors, of course, pre-date Manuelism, but the Moorish fortress in Sintra was recast in a more romantic light when Ferdinand II restored and embellished it with gardens as an extension of La Pena on the next hilltop.
Tower climb

Castelo dos Moros – Version 2
Then there is nearby Quinta da Regaleira, a palace and gardens that bring adjectives like “fantastic” (as in “of fantasy”) and “fabulous” (as in “of fable”) to life.
Quinta palace
From 1898 to 1912, the celebrated capitalist Carvalho Monteiro dedicated his life and fortune to transforming a former summer palace of aristocrats into a “mysterious iconographical programme.” When the French landscape architect he hired to design the gardens didn’t pan out, the visionary employed from the set designer from the legendarily romantic La Scalia of Milano to get the job done.

The results are … romantic! And another World Heritage site. The official guide uses words like “exuberant,” “quixotic,” “enigmatic,” “esoteric,” “magical” and “alchemical” for the orgy of structures, figures, carvings, labyrinths, tunnels and other creations that combine to make Quinta da Regaleira.

Quinta walkways
Quinta well 2

The “Initiation Well” was used for secret initiations. It has nine platforms evoking Dante’s nine levels of Hill. They end at the entry to a maze of underground tunnels.

A single week and a single blog are barely enough to reflect infatuation, much less all the romance of Portugal. In the end, the decidedly unromantic magic of commercial airline flight whisked us off to the Czech Republic, trailing clouds of romantic fancy.

In the rear-view mirror:
  • Trains, planes and elevators, oh my: Lisbon has a marvelous transportation system in which one ticket card (rechargeable at any Metro station) provides access to every public conveyance the city offers: bus, cable car, tram, train, ferry, even the fee elevators. Better yet, there is a pensioner rate they extend even to visitors with proof of 65 years are more. What could top  romance in Lisbon? Romance on the cheap.

    Train grafitti

    Doris and the train to Sintra

  •  Ginjinha in the alleys of Alfama: Portugal’s indigenous liqueur is ginjinha (or ginja), a concoction of alcohol infused with sour cherries, sweetened with sugar and, traditionally, served in a shot glass with a cherry at the bottom. In the winding alleys of Alfama, ladies like Dora stand in their doorways selling shots for 1€ a slug. This may not exactly be romantic but, given that a bottle sells for under 10€, it’s not a bad business model.
  • Travel karma: As if wandering partout at Quinta la Regaleira were not treat enough, we managed to stumble into the palace at the moment a piano maestro and opera diva were filling the music room of the fairy-tale palace with Don Giovanni. Sublime.
    Quinta concertComing soon: When in Prague

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    “Lo! Cintra’s glorious Eden intervenes,” quoth the romantic bard of England in 1809. Nearly 200 years later, the romance – and Lord Byron in Sintra – live on.