The stories of my life on a little island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea ... and my occasional adventures beyond these shores.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

La Margherita

For those of you that have been to Venice, I am sure that, like me, you were overwhelmed by the glassware of all colours that was on sale. I found it really difficult to make a choice, although we did, of course manage to buy one or two souvenirs. But the warning we had read on the Internet that there were a lot of cheap copies from China on sale and that it was difficult to tell the authentic things from the copies made us a bit wary of shopping for too much glass. Then on one of our treks we came across this delightful little shop selling hand-painted ceramics. The proprietor, Margherita Rossetto, is really welcoming and went so far as to explain how she hand-paints every individual item and then bakes them in an oven at the back of her shop. Each piece is unique and Margherita creates many different whimsical designs, usually using vibrant hues. Margherita's work was featured in a book sponsored by UNESCO titled "Venice and Its Artisan Artists".

If you are ever on a trip to Venice, I suggest you pay a visit to La Margherita and let her artwork charm you, as it did us.

La Margherita's Mascot - isn't he cool?
This is not a paid advert but this lady's work is so unique that I thought I should share it with you.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

A Walk on the Cliffs

Recently we drove to the small village of Dingli to take a walk on the cliffs. It was almost sunset and although the view from up there is always great, at sunset it is phenomenal. The cliffs rise 300 metres above sea level and provide an excellent look-out post. All you can see, for miles around, is the deep blue Mediterranean sea. It's really gorgeous up there, especially at this time of year when all the nooks and crannies in the rocks are filled with wild flowers. The silence is only broken by the occasional song of a bird. It was quite chilly up there. The wind was gusting and blowing so we did not really walk too much.

It is hard to try and describe the beauty of the place in words. So I'll just say that it is a place where to ponder, a place to pray, a place to write poetry or a place to play. In short it's a great spot in this crowded and noisy world we live in where you can be alone with your thoughts and with yourself. I always feel as free as a bird up there. The only thing that's missing is a pair of wings and I would be able to soar even higher above the water. As it is, I have to be content with walking on the edge of my world.

Going back to the was spectacular... so I am sharing a few photos with you.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Postcards from Paris (3) - Montmartre

Montmartre, the hill of the martyr, is the highest point in Paris. Huddled around the huge white basilica of Sacre Couer, Montmartre is accessible either after a very steep climb through a terraced garden or else by making use of a funicular which takes you easily to the steps of Sacre Couer. The neo-Romanesque-Byzantine basilica was built between 1875 and 1914 in honour of the 58 000 dead of the Franco-Prussian war. The square bell tower houses one of the world's heaviest bells: La Savoyarde, which weighs 19 tonnes.

Sacre Couer

Montmartre was all that I had imagined it would be and so much more: steep hills and narrow, cobbled streets...the huge white domes of Sacre Couer...Place du Tetre and the street artists...small souvenir shops...piano bars...creperies...old buildings with picturesque facades...

Steep hills and cobbled streets

A piano bar

At the turn of the 20th century many artists had their studios or worked around the community of Montmartre. These included Salvador Dali, Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso. Writers and musicians were also attracted to the area since it was situated outside the city limits and was thus exempt from Paris taxes.
All this resulted in Montmartre becoming the centre of what has become known as the Bohemian lifestyle. Nowadays the area is more of a tourist attraction. Street artists abound and you can sit and have your portrait or caricature done in Place du Tetre, although you will find other artists roaming around all of the narrow streets close to Sacre Couer. Since development is limited, the character of Montmartre has been preserved and although there are no longer any Bohemians living there, the old charm of the place lives on.

Place du Tetre

A small train on wheels is available to take you from the heights of Montmartre to the low-lying area of Pigalle.

The Montmartre train

Pigalle itself is home to the famous (or infamous) Moulin Rouge, the Folies Pigalle and a host of other cabarets.

The Moulin Rouge

I will end this post with a curious anecdote that I came across today. It is said that when, in 1802, the Treaty of Amiens was being signed, Napoleon insisted that Malta (where I live) should at once be ceded by Britain to the King of the Two Sicilies or to another third power, since he would rather see the British in Montmartre than in Malta. I thought that was rather interesting but I am not sure how the British would have felt to be living so close to their arch-rival!

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Postcards from Paris (2) - The Louvre

I could not continue this series of postings about Paris without including a piece about that mecca for art lovers from all over the world – The Louvre. It is absolutely huge and the variety of art masterpieces spans thousands of years, from the marble statutes of ancient Greece and Rome to the more contemporary pieces. I am sure that everyone will find a piece which they will call their favourite.
The most famous painting housed at the Louvre is, of course, the Mona Lisa. It is not a very big painting, and it is not even the most awe-inspiring painting in the Louvre, but there is something about Mona Lisa’s smile that has bewitched people of all generations. It is perhaps a bit of an anti-climax to actually see the painting for the first time and since it is always surrounded by crowds, it is not easy to really look closely at the painting and fall under its spell.

Mona Lisa

I would have to say that my favourite painting of them all (well, of the ones I got to see because the place is so huge it would take a week to really see all the paintings and exhibits in detail) was entitled ‘The Reader’ by Renoir. It is a painting of two girls reading a book. They seem to be on the verge between childhood and adolescence and the look of innocence on their faces is quite entrancing.
The Reader

Masterpieces from the ancient world include the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace.
Venus de Milo

Winged Victory of Samothrace

From the Renaissance I loved Canova’s Cupid and Psyche. I thought that the look on the faces of the two lovers was just sublime. Also housed in the Louvre are The Rebellious Slaves by Michelangelo.
The art exhibited at the Louvre was simply incredible. However, for me, the highlight of the visit was the fact that I was walking in the footsteps of, perhaps, the most famous French king of them all – Louis XIV better known as the the Sun King.
This sumptuous palace was his last home before he moved the court outside Paris to Versailles. It was easy to imagine him walking along the wide corridors, surrounded by his courtiers and ladies, in those high-heeled shoes that were an essential fashion accessory for the noble gentlemen of the 17th century and with a huge curled wig on his head.

The Sun King himself

The Louvre itself is an architectural gem with wide sweeping corridors, majestic staircases and huge rooms with sumptuously painted ceilings.

Its origins date back to the medieval period but countless modifications were carried out from that time until the sixteenth century. In 1988 a modernist glass pyramid was constructed in the central courtyard of the Louvre to house the visitor’s centre.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Postcards from Paris (1) - Snapshots

A view of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower

Paris - city of romance; city of light. Paris is that and so much more. It is the city that gave us La Vie En Rose and haute couture. A vibrant modern city with a colourful historical past. Paris was the home of Louis XIV- the 'Sun King' and Napoleon; Marie Curie and Pasteur. A city torn apart by a bloody revolution but which was rebuilt to become the capital of an empire. Its past has given it its present character. It is both classy and brash; mysterious and in-your-face. I could go on and on but I do not want to bore you with too much detail. Instead I will give you some snapshots of the things that struck me most on my recent trip to Paris with my husband.

Arc de Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe. The Champs Elysees. Cartier. Louis Vuitton. Place Charles de Gaulle. Place de la Concorde...

The Arc de Triomphe is, as its name implies, a triumphal arch. It was built by Napoleon and is situated at one end of the most famous boulevard in Paris: the Champs Elysees which stretch from Place Charles de Gaulle to Place de la Concorde. The latter square was famous (or infamous) for being the site where executions took place during the French Revolution of 1789. An Egyptian obelisk today stands at the centre of this square. The Champs Elysees are lined with renowned stores such as Cartier, Louis Vuitton and other more money-friendly shops such as Promod and Esprit.

The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower. Wrought ironwork. Views of Paris. Vertigo. The Eternal Flame. The Pont de l'Alma tunnel. Princess Diana...

Constructed in 1889 to mark the first centennial from the French Revolution, this tower of wrought ironwork soars 984 feet into the sky and provides unobstructed and vertiginous views of all of Paris. It is, perhaps, the most easily recognised landmark in Paris and certainly one of the most famous. Not far from the Eiffel Tower is an exact replica of the flame held by the Statue of Liberty in New York. The flame is situated right on top of the Pont de l'Alma tunnel which was the site of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame. Gothic architecture. Gargoyles. Quasimodo. Esmeralda. Bells. Spires. Stained glass. Ile de la Cite. Ile St Louis. Souvenir shops...

Situated on the Ile de la Cite, Notre Dame is a notable example of Gothic architecture. It stood at the heart of medieval Paris, most of which was later destroyed. We went there on a cold and rainy day which somehow added to the character of the place. The famous gargoyles stud the facade of this thirteenth century church and Victor Hugo's novel 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' immediately comes to mind. It is easy to imagine Quasimodo ringing the bells in the towers and looking down on Esmeralda. The interior of the church is very stark but the huge glass-stained windows provide colour and cheer on gloomy days. The cathedral is surrounded by souvenir shops and a short walk will take you to Ile St Louis, a small island in the Seine connected to the rest of Paris by a number of bridges. It is a sweet little place with narrow streets and charming stores.

The Conciergerie
La Conciergerie. Fortress. Prison. Torture chamber. Marie Antoinette. Danton. The guillotine. The revolution of 1789. The Reign of Terror...

Used first as a fortress and then as a prison and torture chamber, the Conciergerie was the last home of Marie Antoinette before she was guillotined. It is here, also, that Robespierre and Danton, two of the early revolutionaries, spent their last days. It is a magnificent medieval building which, when lit up at night, forgets its dark past as it casts its golden reflection on the still waters of the Seine.

In as few words as possible I have tried to give you a very brief look at the history of Paris and at some of the major attractions. There is much to see and even more to say but, as with all cities, I think it is best to discover it for yourselves. However, in the next few days, I will give you a few more glimpses of this captivating city. For today I will leave you with some gorgeous flowers from its parks.


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