My Paris Birthday, Part One and a Half

Beautiful Surprise

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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.

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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.

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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

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My Birthday in Paris – Part One

 

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

Simple Things That Stir My Soul

      Photo Courtesy of Pinterest

From This to That…..Read to the end please.

This time of year brings a powerful emotional rush for me, with blessings in such abundance that the ride from Thanksgiving until New Years Eve feels like one long continuous smile through teary eyes of gratefulness. I am a simple girl at heart, not very high maintenance I have been told. It is because I am an artist – it is ALL wondrous to me, the small is way more intricate than the big. Every day brings joy and wonder at all the goodness still in evidence in this tumultuous, troubled, wounded world. Every tiny thing stirs my soul. Every song, every kind word, every demonstration of love and giving melts me right down to a tender mess. During the holiday season, the common becomes the extraordinary; all that is good and true becomes magnified and more important in my eyes. Every moment is a reminder of how fortunate we all are to be where we are and who we are in a country of opportunity and bounty; we are all well aware of the alternatives.

I will always and forever be moved by the stark imagery of a red barn in the snow. It travels me back in time to my youth spent on eight magical acres in the country, when we lived in a huge enfolding mother of a home and Santa’s sleigh landed on the roof.

I am brought full speed to happiness by the giggles of little children waiting for Santa, opening gifts, bundled up against the snow, eating holiday cookies and finally snuggling in for bed on Christmas Eve.

I can tear up making mashed potatoes when I am suddenly aware of how many Christmases I have been fortunate enough to make them for a mob of partying people arriving through my door. I am so grateful to have survived all this time. I am so grateful for people who enjoy coming to my home.

I am amazed when the simple glass globe that changes colors and acts as a nightlite for  my laundry room (it really deserves a better location)  becomes the single most fascinating object in my home, (amid piles of new markers, crayons, coloring books) for my three precious nieces. I wish I had gotten a picture of them clustered around it, oooing and ahhhing….it was priceless.

I am struck by the panorama of the Rocky Mountain range spread out before me in snow-covered majesty against a deep blue sky, clear as a bell and sparkling in the late November sun. It is a scene I am treated to every time I drive through the entrance of the community I call home, and it makes my return from the most mundane errands a constantly changing artistic delight. That view is my barometer of weather rolling in and many times a barometer of the mood I am in. How can one not be inspired and humbled by that enormous landscape? It puts you right in your place if you are feeling the slightest bit grumpy. It straightens you up and makes you fly right as my mother would say.

I am ever-awed by the surprises that come my way, both great and small, during this giving season. I also happen to have a late November birthday, lumped in with Thanksgiving and Christmas and so I am also facing the fact that I am in the late fall of my life both literally and metaphorically. No need to remind me – I am well aware of the years, thank you very much. Winter is just around the corner. I can already hear the wind howling as it gets closer and closer. Anyone who is fortunate to have reached this point relatively unscathed asks herself or himself a lot of questions. I mean a LOT of questions….you become rather introspective. And quite philosophical. Wondering…how many Christmases are left…wondering how many of all the “this and thats” you might have left. What is to come? It is not always pretty up there in your mind’s eye. You welcome diversions.

I am fortunate to be blessed with an old-soul daughter, a rare and wise and fun daughter who is beautiful both inside and out, in my life who takes great pleasure in stunning me – shocking me – rendering me speechless and babbling like a goofball with monumental surprises beyond my wildest dreams! The most recent surprise (in a long list of events and occasions that scroll through the attic of my mind) first unfolded with a request to play a silly little game of rhymes, followed by the big realization when the answer was revealed, then chaos in my mind and dumbfounded confusion about how it had all been planned so carefully behind my back, complete with a Fed Ex delivery to my door with mysterious envelopes to open over a week’s time…….a plane ticket and more! It finally sunk in that I am being sent away to Paris for a week, accompanied by a dear friend (in on the planning) since my daughter was busy meeting deadlines with her job and could not get away. This is a wild dream that had been eliminated from any dreams (for one reason or another) I had for this particular year of my life! It is a rather large birthday I am facing. It makes me gulp. This surprise is large enough to match the numbers and now my gulps will be of wine. For an art major and fanatical fan of Da Vinci, Notre Dame, the Eiffel and all that is France, this will be heaven. I am crazy with anticipation.

I have learned more from this darling daughter of mine than I could ever have taught her myself. She was born Yoda-wise. I saw it in her baby eyes when she was born.

She believes deeply in the giving of experiences. She knows that there is great value in giving memories, because those will entertain and  warm you in the long winter of life to come when your ability to find adventure and action packed days is no longer a possibility. She finds ways to fill my bucket list and stoke my fire of a life well lived, so the embers will burn for a very long time. It must also be mentioned that her old-soul Renaissance Man husband is very much a part of this picture, also loving the fine art of the surprise! Thanks so much for this birthday gift! I will do it up right I promise!

Eiffel Tower by night

Weekly Photo Challenge – Corner

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This week’s Photo Challenge brought back so many memories of travels to Siem Reap Cambodia where every street corner is jam-packed with so much visual stimulation that it takes a while to digest each one. Layers and layers of texture, color and pattern….and in nearly every photo I, the artist, see an abstract composition. There is usually a path for your eye to follow, a focal point, and places for your eye to rest….in layer upon layer of surface and depth. As with abstract art, if you divide the image into quadrants, each square stands well on its own as a fascinating composition.

Cuba -The Beauty and the Beast

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 Confetti that is Trinidad, Cuba

Trinidad is a gutsy but laid-back lady of many moods and faces – she has a twinkle in her lovely eye, lives with constant music, she loves Americans, she enjoys a hearty laugh, she offers you her roof-top restaurants and a day at the beach, she has contemporary art for your viewing pleasure hung on old painted fresco walls because she likes the contrast of the very old with the brand new, she becomes one loud and crazy broad when the sun goes down and she dances and sings with wild abandon. You would love her – she will become your best friend in Cuba. She knows everyone!

We took a bus trip across country of such deep green density and beauty that it took our breath away and reminded us of Hawaii…wandering valleys and streams, endless rolling hills toward distant mountains, and finally into the beachy little coastal village of Trinidad. Our Casa Particular hostess had walked to the bus station to meet us, greeted us by name from pictures she had seen of us on Air B&B, and led us back to her home with white grillwork fronting the street and then directly through the door to her life. The magical little world we entered was colorful, to say the least, with grape vine roof over head (and clusters of hanging purple grapes ) on the secluded outdoor patio,  a tiny but comfortable air-conditioned bedroom behind a window-paned door, and a newly tiled luxury bathroom, all to ourselves. (see photos in my gallery with this blog)

We could not wait to get acquainted with Trinidad. Such contrasts – the shops with fresh hams hanging in the open windows, the bread delivered daily along each skinny street by a horse-drawn buggy clop-clopping along and a guy yelling “PAN! PAAANNNOOOO!”, the stray dogs and cats, the music coming from several homes at once, the garlic salesman, the produce guy with his cart on the corner, the old ladies hanging out of windows watching as we passed, the 2 amigos posing for my camera as one says “Amigos!” and loops his arm around the others shoulder. It was all as if from a storybook.

Trinidad gave us one particular treasure we will never forget – Manuel G.- a hysterically funny guide who we enlisted to drive us around for about 2 days, including a day trip to sugar plantation country where we saw ruins being restored of an old but very extravagant mansion house accompanied by a slave village just a few hundred yards away from the house in a grove of trees. A tall bell tower for keeping watch on the entire operation was strategically placed so that there were no slave escapees. In the event of that occurrence, the bell was rung and other plantations for miles around knew that there was a runner; everyone dropped what they were doing and gave chase until he or she was tracked down and returned. We saw exactly where the sugar was distilled in gigantic copper pots and the ingenious process that made use of every single part of the sugar cane plant so that wealthy families in America and Europe could enjoy the new imported sweetener that was sugar. When it was discovered that rum could also be manufactured from sugar cane, the wealthy plantation owners became even richer. I will do another blog with pictures of this plantation…

In the several hours spent with Manuel as he drove us around in his AC car, we were treated to some crazy funny conversations about women, marriage, old cars, new cars, and Cuba in general, frank as frank can be in a car where no one could be overheard. You do not want to say anything about the Castro brothers where you might be overheard by the Policia and they are always listening. But with everyone we met, humor is firmly intact in the Cuban people and it is brutally honest at times, because if you are sick and tired of crying and complaining about the dictatorship and the food rations and the impossibility of ever getting off the island, you try your best to make it funny.

I would be glad to provide links to Casa Particulars that we used on this trip if you can manage to get my email address and contact me personally – I do not want to get any Cuban in trouble by mentioning them by name in a blog where I talk so openly about my strong distaste for the dictatorship.

The long, nearly deserted beach just outside downtown Trinidad is gorgeous in its privacy and simplicity. But we were way to busy for the beach. We are both artists. We soak stuff up like giant sponges and take pictures until our arms fall off and we talk in paint color language. The confetti colors of Trinidad are there for us.

For music – and I do mean !MUSIC! – that is authentically Cuban and nearly free almost every night please, please go to Café de la Musica, with its large outdoor stage situated at the side of some wide old stone steps just off the main plaza. You cannot miss it by late afternoon, if you are wandering around looking for a place to have some cocktails and have dinner later. You will hear it! You will feel the ground vibrating! Or just ask anyone… The band and singers number 11 or 12 guys and gals and they are energy personified. You sit at café tables on the steps and order whatever you want to drink and you might be there for hours on end. The people watching is magnificent and the entertainment is the best we had in Cuba. One little snapshot in this gallery does not do it justice.

Our best sunset dinner in Trinidad was eaten on the rooftop terrace of a restaurant near Café de la Musica – there are several rooftop hot spots in that area – just pick one and go with it. They are probably all good. We ate grilled shrimp, onions &black beans with dark rice of some kind, vegetables, shrimp cocktails, bread and salad with flan for dessert. It was delisioso. Of course we continued our research about where to find the best Mojito in all of Cuba, an extensive study requiring hours and hours of dusk time and beyond into the dead of night.

to be continued…..

The Personalities of Cuba

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.