Day Six Bangkok, Thailand Imperial Palace Grounds
Day Three PARIS, Notre Dame, 2017
Sometimes when you have your mind set on one thing (Notre Dame) you are surprised and moved by a different thing discovered along the way…..maybe not as grand or as monumental as the thing you were seeking, not as polished and elegant, a little bit more weathered and worn around the edges, but certainly worthy of a visit. So you walk in. It is then that you understand the value of never passing up the chance to investigate and perhaps be rewarded for your effort with an unforgettable experience.
Just a short block or so up in the square, a five minute walk, from our Hotel des Continents located at 25, Rue Jacob in the Saint Germain district of Paris we found the well worn little lady of a church named Saint-Germain-des-Pres – astoundingly the oldest church in Paris! Construction on its Bell Tower was begun in 990 making it the oldest one in Paris plus a belfry dating from the 12th century. It is considered quite a prestigious site for the Romanesque style of art and architecture and people have been attending services there for fifteen centuries. It was a Benedictine Abbey with a major intellectual influence over the course of all that time. From the outside it is rather unimpressive, but the gorgeously colorful interior takes your breath away. Reds! Blues! Patterned columns carved with Romanesque capitals that are among the very first of the Romanesque period line the passageways on the sides of the church. There is some much needed renovation going on. Paint is peeling off and colors are fading but it is all being restored to its rightful splendor as we speak.
I was astounded at the beauty of this church and visited again several times while in Paris for several reasons – it seemed to be the center of our familiar little neighborhood with wonderful shops down every street from the church. Also one of our favorite cafes, Les Deux Magots was just across the street from the church and we ate there several times and did some serious people watching. The Saint Germain district is a perfectly positioned area in which to stay, on the Left Bank and just a couple blocks from the Seine. Everything we wanted to see was easily accessible by walking or cab if it was raining. A pastry tray was offered to me at Les Deux Magots that raised the French pastry bar by several notches. I limited myself to just one since they were all the size of melons.
We could hear the church bells ringing from that centuries old Bell Tower from our hotel room and the church had an outdoor Christmas bazaar happening every evening with rows of cute little wooden houses with red trim that we loved to frequent for food and gifts. Last but not least I loved this church because I am just a total fool for cathedrals and churches. They indicate so much about the people who lived centuries ago and that has everything to do with my art history courses at CU in Boulder, my own artistic gift and the ways I like to be inspired to paint and create, and then of course my sentimental longing to pay my respects to places of worship that have been so significant in the history of humankind. One of the rainy days when I visited the church a man was taking refuge there.
On a freezing cold night with strong wind stinging any exposed skin, we bundled up and braved the situation to have our dinner standing up outside at a counter at one of the Christmas booths at the church – Raclette at its finest! Gooey melted cheese, scraped dripping, bubbling and hot off a huge cheese wheel then combined with thin sausage slices, slathered onto a French baguette cut lengthwise. Oh! And with a side dish of the best scalloped potatoes I have EVER had being constantly stirred in an enormous wok-like pan on a burner. I asked her what the recipe was for those potatoes and she told me in English with a lovely French accent – of course heavy cream played the biggest role in that yummy concoction. It was honestly one of the best meals we had in Paris and it was well under 15 Euros, and we had to brace ourselves against the wind as we wolfed it down.
One night it actually snowed which is a rare and wonderful freak of nature in Paris and we also happened to be in the square next to the church. Well, absolute crazy chaos ensued at the sight of snow coming down in flakes the size of cottonballs! Car horns honking! Sophisticated French folks yelling and laughing and catching snowflakes in their mouths! I wanted to invite them all to visit me in Colorado. (see photo of the church in snow above) We can show you some snow!
Days before I ever saw Notre Dame in Paris, which left me breathless and teary, I found this sweet little church of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, and I am forever grateful for that. It reminded me of a lesson I already knew – beauty comes from within and is undiminished by age.
Please stay tuned for Part Two of My Birthday in Paris! Your response to this series has been quite amazing and much appreciated. I am also posting photos on Instagram under Jo Ann Brown-Scott, The Creative Epiphany
Photos by Jo Ann Brown-Scott, late November 2017 – The Christmas tree is directly in front of Notre Dame. The weather was quite cold, rainy and it snowed one night, but it made the scenery look like fine etches in dark contrast .
Please read my previous blog titled Simple Things That Stir My Soul in order to have the foundation and perspective for this new blog. Paris is by no means a simple thing….you need to read the back story to understand how it happened that I spent my birthday there. Paris is monumentally impressive and a life-changing experience. The people could not have been more kind, cooperative, polite, funny and charming. Parisiennes are quite eager to be of help and often eager to know who you are, exactly where you are from and anxious to have brief conversations with you if possible. Tres magnifique!
I ate onion soup almost every day for lunch, with a variety of cheeses and salads, in some little cafe or another but of all the places where my traveling companion extraordinaire and I decided to stop, this photo was taken at the Frenchiest of French cafes serving the very Frenchiest French onion soup I ever ate in my life. One just cannot have enough onion soup, sinfully sweet flaky whip creamy pastry, fat puffy croissants and creme brulee to die for while in Paris. AND if it is also the assignment from your daughter then you must do it. After all, she is the bottom line reason I was there in the first place! (again, refer to previous blog)
My friend Susie Angeline, who also writes a WordPress blog titled The Sunday Traveler and is posting some of the exact same views that I am in her blog (we each see the same things a teensy bit differently ) and I put in a week’s worth of epic, happily exhausting days. We packed a lot in those 7 days – we jam-packed them with major monuments, art museums, cathedrals, elegant shops, a 2 hour day tour of the Latin Quarter, restaurants, and dozens upon dozens of smaller priceless discoveries that warmed our hearts and fed the voracious appetites of our phone cameras and our digital cameras. When you go to Paris you must take both kinds of cameras – phone camera for ease and spontaneity and digital for clarity when photographing stained glass, rainy shots and distance. Yes it does become a juggling act since a new photo opportunity crops up about every 5 feet.
We hit the ground running about 10:30 am or so from the hotel (after checking in immediately from the airport) and ignored our jet lag to race off on foot to the Eiffel since it is the ultimate icon of Paris and we did not want to be inside a cab as the scenes blurred past us. We approached it from the back side (excuse my French) and found the neighborhood around it to be charming and exceedingly photogenic. We wanted to rent a flat there. We already started planning…we wanted to chuck our lives in the USA and live in Paris for a while. She would become a writer and travel photographer, I would paint and write my fourth book. We would dress the way French women dress. We knew we could do it. We discussed it over pastries, in lieu of birthday cake since it was the actual day of my birth when we landed in Paris. Too large a birthday to mention any numbers here. Don’t even guess please. Just leave it alone. I had 2 huge pastries and a hot chocolate with whipped cream. Combined with jet lag.
I was stunned to finally be in Paris – I thought my chances of getting there anytime soon would be like …… pigs flying. I remained in a constant state of awe for all the next 7 days, 24/7, to such a degree that I had to repeatedly pinch myself. Paris is a state of mind, I learned. Much more than a mere city. It is now in my DNA and I must go back.
Please stay tuned for Part Two of My Birthday in Paris!
Please visit these two extraordinary Blog sites for beautiful, enlightening travel posts by my daughter Kelly K. Heapy at CompassandCamera.wordpress.com and my traveling companion Angeline Susie Munoz at TheSundayTraveler.wordpress.com
By the time we left Cuba we were in love with the country and its people. We had many discussions, political and otherwise with our various hosts in the Casa Particulars where we stayed, inside the privacy of their homes and in cars whenever the driver could speak a bit of English. No one would dare to speak about the dictatorship freely in the plazas or the restaurants for fear of being overheard; the police were ever-present. We spoke, sometimes in whispers, about the inevitable change of power when Castro died, having no idea how eminent that was at the time of our conversations.
Since that trip to Cuba in early November Castro has died and the country has mourned. There was no dancing in the streets – that would have been foolish. The next shoe might already be dropping. The beast of communism is very much alive as I write this and the uncertainty of Cuba’s future looms large. The industrious, inventive, energetic, constantly musical and delightfully humorous people of Cuba wait and wonder what is to come next. There is a high degree of melancholy underneath the bustle of Cuba but hope is very much alive; I hope that their powerful hope is rewarded in the months to come. The contrasts are sharp between the arrival of the cell phone and the women lowering their baskets on ropes from 4th story windows in the early morning light to buy bread from a kid on a bike yelling “Panooooo.”
Change is a constantly grinding wheel and it will not be denied. But at what cost?
Attached are some photos; for more please visit my recent Archives about this enlightening journey to another exotic world just 100 miles from our shores where dictators deny their people freedoms and basic staples of daily life. The beauty is evident, the evidence of brutality is everywhere. More blogs to come, including the Ernest Hemingway experience…
Author & Artist Jo Ann Brown-Scott – http://www.thecreativeepiphany.com
New novel – http://www.acanaryfliesthecanyon.com
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The faces and facades of Havana are never-ending and always fascinating…every street brings a new discovery and a different jolt through the sensuality of color, the sounds of music and the aromas of exotic food. We wandered for 9-10 hours a day with no destinations in mind, allowing our senses to lead us. These photos were taken on our first day out in Havana, a city crumbling in many locations, ravaged by time, yet revealing older textures and paint colors newly uncovered.
I collect Buddha sculptures wherever I go. I have them displayed in my home and studios in a variety of materials and sizes. I do not discriminate. It matters not to me whether Buddha is represented in bronze, stone, marble, solid silver, gold, terra cotta, jade or agate and if I see a plastic Buddha that stirs me I will buy it, because I am sure that the humble Buddha does not mind and I personally have no shame. In my collection I have Buddha likenesses from Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, Hawaii and various other locations around the world and in the mainland USA.
By far the most unusual geographic location in which I have ever purchased a Buddha was in a little shop specializing in Tibetan jewelry and other exotic treasures in Flagstaff, Arizona. My sister and I were wandering around aimlessly one morning following our fancy wherever it led us, having a great, leisurely escape when we stumbled upon the place – the place where I found the Buddha for whom I carry the most affection of any in my possession.
I was going through a hard time during that month, feeling a little wounded and beaten up by life. The event that caused those feelings actually escapes me now, years later, which is a good thing. Whatever it was, it was only temporary. Maybe my sister would remember. Vicki? Are you there?
I saw this remarkable Buddha in the glass case. I asked to see it, touch it and admire it closer. The face appeared to be gold leaf, but I doubted that preciousness coming from there, a tiny little shop in Flagstaff, AZ. and it truly did not matter to me whether it was genuine gold leaf or not. The lady removed it from the case and sat it on the counter. I sensed its weight with that gesture; she said it was heavy steel. I immediately noticed the deep crack that meandered from the golden forehead up into the head; it had been damaged somewhere and sometime in the very distant past. I found that both sad and intriguing. She assured us it was from Nepal.
She told us that she had another one, identical except for the crack, in perfect condition and asked if perhaps I’d like to see it. Of course!
It was perfect. I could not believe there were two. Obviously I chose the blemished Buddha, because upon that day, when I felt the pain, I decided to embrace it. I was sure I was meant to have the blemished Buddha, and I felt I had found a true, personalized relic meant as a treasure just for me…found randomly in a tiny shop in a very unlikely location a world away from its birthplace, and now mine. It seemed like Karma to me.
My photo taken in the countryside outside Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2015
I am coming up on a personal milestone in my blogging career of the past several years – soon I will reach 10,000 views which is a nice round number to achieve. I am excited about it, but compared to many others I could name whose blogs I follow and read religiously, that is a very small number. In my humble career as a blogger I have however, learned a great deal about people, travel, the art of writing, life, photography and the wonders of the world. Several meaningful discoveries have been made through my writing and reading of blogs.
- If you are able to find a way to travel, domestically or internationally, you owe it to a life well lived to do that at every opportunity. I am of the opinion that people who venture out of their own comfort zones and soak up the knowledge they gain along the way are the everyday prophets of the world. I don’t care if you simply walk across town, ride a bike, trek around Mt. Everest or trek to a national park, journey on a train, or a bus or a boat or a plane or climb a fourteener in Colorado – just leave your everyday environment behind for a while. Even for just an afternoon! What you will learn far outweighs any perceived inconvenience in getting there. Then be sure you write and talk about it. Share your experiences. Impart some knowledge. Bring the world together.
- What will you learn? You will learn how to get outside your own importance. You will begin to know and appreciate other lifestyles; other people’s struggles and joys, other scenery, other people’s ways of making a living and how they spend their leisure time if they have any. How they raise their children, how they worship, what they eat, where they live, what they wear and what they sleep on at night. You might read all that in a book, of course but unless you smell it, hear it, touch it, breathe it in and see it with your own eyes you will not truly know anything for sure about what other people are up against. Whether it is our Louisiana flooding or even if – even if it is a mere 10 miles away from where you live.
- As a result of traveling, you will get better at tolerance, kindness, understanding, generosity, love and even forgiveness. You will be a better person, I guarantee. Why? Because it is hard to ignore a barefoot, raggedy clothed, dusty little child, painfully underfed, without toys, living in a dirt-floored hovel that the monsoons are likely to flatten and flood in 2 months. You will think of him and his family, from a world away, when you hear on the news that there is flooding in Cambodia and hundreds of people have had their rice fields swept away. You will care very deeply.
- All of those experiences will make a better person of you and your children and friends. You will have a deeper and wider frame of reference upon which to base your beliefs and opinions about what needs to be done in the world. And you will use that platform for change, in whatever way you can. You will have personal stories to tell that will influence others and inspire them to travel and provide good works wherever they go. If you travel you have a fine opportunity to be a positive ambassador for the USA. We need more of those.
- Finally, for now, but certainly not lastly, if you are a creative person artistically, musically, if you write or you photograph or you simply keep a humble travel journal – whatever expression stirs your soul – it will become far more profound in meaning if you travel. It cannot help but get better. You will employ travel and use it all as food and fuel for your heart and mind. You will find yourself saying poetic things you never thought you would utter, writing about other worlds, seeing everything with new eyes and loving the diversity of the planet as never before, because you had no basis upon which to know what you had been missing. Your mind will open up and you will become wiser for with every travel experience.
During our recent trip to these two enticing places we experienced a number of amazing things and had our eyes opened to sights we will never forget – the glitz and glamour of orderly, polite, uber-wealthy Singapore in stark contrast with the crumbling ruins of mysterious Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia set amid the poverty stricken, red dirt countryside that surrounds that site.
Sometimes, however, it is the smaller discoveries on a trip that stick in your visual memories and linger in your heart and soul. My traveling companion and I are both artists and I am a writer – we cannot even comprehend how NOT to be visually oriented. We take thousands of pictures; we describe scenes, light, color, people and smells using a different vocabulary known only between the two of us…we store away ambience, mood, a fleeting happening there or a dialogue overheard here that will later fuel a painting or a paragraph in the book I am writing. We absorb everything, keeping it all in the loft of our minds for later use.
Here are ten things both large and small that impressed us, amid the hundreds of overwhelming experiences we had:
1) In the Singapore airport there is a special dimmed area of grouped reclining chairs for the purpose of giving travelers a place to sleep. Such a civilized, valuable addition…
2) In a different area there is a long table, supplied with free paper and crayons, where children and adults can do colorful rubbings of raised designs – perhaps a dozen or so – in various Singapore-related images. It is easy, it is fun, and for weary travelers it is certainly a welcome change of pace.
3) All over Singapore on various street corners you will notice a lattice-roof area which shelters a sort of courtyard perhaps as large as your living room, with sturdy wires, arranged in a grid, hanging down about 20 inches with hooks on the end, and each hook is numbered. What could this possibly be, I ask ? Well of course these places are there for people’s caged household birds, so that they can enjoy an outdoor afternoon.
4) Do not go to Singapore without eating Chili Crab – it is messy, best eaten outdoors, perhaps at a restaurant along the water. Spend a long, leisurely amount of time for this dinner; it is an experience! Bring friends; keep ordering food.
5) Go to the Marina Bay Sands resort hotel in the city, have a cocktail on the top floor and take in the view, but sneak around to the infinity pool (that is just for guests) – you must have a good look at it! The pool is located on the top floor, visually losing its edge as you swim, and the top of this building, at closer glance, is the shape of a long, sleek ship balanced atop a logic-breaking skyscraper in three sections. It is the iconic image one remembers of Singapore.
6) Siem Reap is a short flight from Singapore to the sweltering interior of Cambodia.You are transported to another time and place. Hit your re-set button and dial it down a bit so that you can understand and appreciate the wonderful people there and what their brutal recent history has dealt them. Buy things – they depend upon tourism and they have lovely silver jewelry. Talk with the people – they are hungry for information from the outside world.
7) If you are not faint of heart get yourself an authentic Cambodia massage. Lovely wafer-thin young women who cannot weight more than 70 lbs will walk on you, pull your limbs until you fear they will come off, bend and twist you like a pretzel and give your muscles a wake-up call the likes of which you have never experienced.
8) The most expensive restaurants in Siem Reap are not necessarily the best – you can have a gourmet Cambodian meal for about $12-15 per person, beautifully presented and delicious. The fruits and vegetables are delightful.
9) Do not spend less than two days touring Angkor Wat – if you do you will miss a lot and you will not be getting all the history and information you need in order to comprehend the vast importance of the ruins. It could not have been possible to construct such an enormous complex of temples and buildings were it not for the 40,000 elephants who hauled the stone.
10) Embrace the immense curiosity evident everywhere you go for the United States. People crave conversation – they want to understand you, where you live, what it is like there and why you came. You will love the people.
Enveloped in tree roots: a temple entrance at the mysterious 12th century Angkor Wat, photographed 2 weeks ago in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The 3 days we spent exploring these enigmatic ruins was the highlight of our trip. The tree roots are invasive to such a degree that huge blocks of stone are jostled around like Lego blocks; the tree is peculiar in the fact that it grows from the top down, gaining the moisture it needs from the rocks it crawls upon rather than the ground underneath.
copyright Jo Ann Brown-Scott, 2015