Wednesday, November 2, 2011



In terms of museums, this is the big one. I had to plan meticulously, because as previous musee tours have proved, the day can fall apart very quickly if you're not on your toes!

Example of a near disaster: Musee D'Orsay.

This was by far my favourite museum. The roof of the converted railway station is a blanket of huge sculptured flowers and sunlight, which feels warm and not so austere as some museums. The day was marred however by a few logistical complications.

Firstly, there was the usual queue issue. Thought I'd just wander along casually mid morning and stroll through the door. No deal. An hour standing in the cold. I forgot about it very quickly though when I hit a Van Gogh. From there on, I was oblivious to any activity outside my audio tour and the art. I moved from room to room saying things like

'Oh my god. I can't believe I'm standing here in front of this! WTF!'

But as the the day slid by, the big sculptured roof flowers started to spin in circles above my head and my legs turned to jelly.

'Is it a stroke? Am I having a stroke? WTF!'

I sit down and think through the predicament. Thank god I said yes to the medical insurance! Does it cover stroke though? I don't remember. Too weak to struggle with the details now anyway. Maybe I have a concussion? I don't remember hitting my head, but then I'm still struggling with the birthdays of my immediate family, so that's neither here nor there. I concentrate on breathing deeply and after holding back the tears for a bit, I recognise a familiar sensation... hunger.

Condition confirmed when I discover that it has covertly become 3pm. I cannot continue to be the walking machine, the appreciator of fine art, the lone adventurer, without food, so I go in search of the knife and fork symbol.

The restaurant is easy enough to find but as I peer through the glass into the busy marble and chandelier clad dining room, I feel utterly deflated. All these people are sitting at tables set for at least four. The queue of waif like tourists is long, so taking a whole table for myself is not an option as it would certainly cause a riot. I stalk one lady who appears to be alone, in the hope that I will muster the courage to ask her if she'd like to share a table, but it doesn't come. I can't eat here.

Dilemma. I haven't finished looking at the beautiful things in the museum that I will probably never get the chance to see again. My ticket doesn't allow for me to leave the building and then come back in but if I stay I will probably pass out on the floor, in which case I won't be seeing much more anyway.

Am I being punished for travelling alone? Is death by starvation my sentence for not having a life long partner that I kiss passionately on every cobblestone bridge? And what's with that anyway? Is it necessary? No! No! No! and no, it's not necessary! I will look at every painting, every sculpture, every piece of Art Nouveu furniture on display if it kills me!

I get up and continue through the maze of rooms, stopping every now and then for a rest and to check myself with a series of questions,

'What day is it? Do you know where you are? Who's the president?' That last one's a trick question, which I recognised every time.

I push on like this for another hour and then without even a thought, I walk as if possessed, out the door and over the road to the first cafe I see where I eat so much food I feel ill and have to go directly home to bed.

The Louvre is a hundred times bigger than the Orsay, so you will understand why the planning for this tour had to be almost military.

Wake in the dark, coffee and out into the street. First stop, boulangerie for the hugest baguette in town with thirty two fillings. Eat while walking, being careful not to share even a crumb with the pigeons.

The Louvre has about a thousand entrance points but I head directly to the Pyramid entrance. My detailed study of the building map has shown me that this offers a direct route to the Mona Lisa, so minimum contact with other incoming troops.

I do audio tour equipment 101 and then proceed quickly towards my chosen target. I soon discover that they have hung a few centuries of the largest Italian and French paintings in the world en route to ML. These paintings are obviously planted as a distraction, so I do my best to avoid looking at them and focus solely on the task at hand.

My strategy is a success! I overtake many many people. (What time did they get up?!) By the time I reach ML's room, I am so excited I have lost track of how fast I'm moving. I slide across the floor towards the painting as if she is third base. Thank god for the little metal fence around the front of her, or I might have caused a lot more damage than just a couple of bruised shins! I take 68 self portraits of me copying the cheeky smile before the crowd arrives and tries to do the same. Victory!

My meticulous planning got me through everything I wanted to see in eight hours. There were a couple of floors that I may have seen twice but I think they were probably very good paintings and well worth another look.

I was also happy to discover that the Louvre has many eating places within the complex. I'm not sure that french fries were a well thought out lunch option but I cannot eat anything else that resembles a long sandwich.

Of course, like any museum operation of this kind, there were moments of disorientation where things got a bit touch and go, but once I ditched the stupid incomprehensible map and threw my fate into the hands of google sat nav, everything became clear.

Mission accomplished, I sat outside the museum, exhausted but feeling heroic. that it then? Is my work here done? Is this how Paris and I part?

It does seem so. I feel a little sad as I take in this most awesome of buildings and the thousands of people who have come here, like me, to be excited by everything it contains.

Actually, it's not just this building that's making me sad to leave, it's Paris. It's the history in every building, the attitude in every waiter, the lights, the steps, the bread, the river, the strip club, the dogs, the French onion soup, pastries for breakfast, champagne for supper, the lack of room anywhere, long walks, chocolate shops, metro buskers, the markets, the art, the artists, the man playing chopin on a real piano on a street corner, crab roulade, snails that taste like dirt, butter, cream, that most beautiful of languages, the most comfortable apartment and my most generous new friends.

Paris, I love you. I have always loved you. It was a fine romance!

Peut-etre qu'on se reverra bientot un de ces jours!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


It's official. I have literally walked my arse off. My legs are now connected directly to my back.


European Centre for Photography. An inspiring exhibition that I had to drag myself away from as I had been invited to lunch with friends of friends of a friend. Soon forget all about exhibition, thanks to lovely conversation, a plate of duck, a great glass of red and an invite to a private tour of Versailles tomorrow afternoon. Back to photography exhibition. Buy baguette and eggs on the way home. Omelette for dinner followed by a very disturbing film about a guy who gets his hand caught under a rock in some canyon and has to saw off his own arm with a blunt pocket knife to save himself from certain death caused by dehydration and probably a bit of shock I would imagine. Bad dreams about small homeless puppies and being in unbearable pain.


Coffee, baguette and then hit the streets in intolerably cold, semi darkness. This is my great plan to avoid getting caught in the queue at the much anticipated Pompidou. Stand in intolerably cold and long queue at Pompidou for 45 minutes. Stand in front of a Picasso. Stand in front of a Dali. Stand in front of a pair of trousers pegged to a little clothes line with ivy growing out of the pockets and then this,

'...the work seems to contain a latent violence, yet a violence transfigured by the beauty of the materials.' I am done here.

I have left just enough time to reach the Versailles connection. Unfortunately, I don't factor in the time it takes to get me out of this industrial maze of a building. Every direction I take sends me back up the same escalators I just got off. Around and around I go, playing the clueless tourist, shamelessly. There is much exasperation expressed through eye rolling, audible sighs and eventually a loud WTF. I squash my face up hard against the massive wall of glass. I can see the chalk artist on the street below where I need to be, I can smell the pastries, I just...can't...get...out...

Versailles. It is absolutely no wonder that the people living in poverty around this outrageously opulent residence rose up and trashed the place. A most extraordinary display of the most extraordinary wealth. Also, a most extraordinary preservation of history.

I stood in Marie Antoinette's bedroom, trying hard to grasp that all of the furniture here was original, I was struck speechless by MA's own private theatre, complete with balcony seating.

My new friends, Marie and Emmanuelle, tell me that MA loved the theatre and often popped herself in a play or two. She also loved old farms so she had one built just across the pond from her residence. None of the quaint little houses on this farm ever served a purpose though, they are all empty. The stairs were purposely knocked down to give the farm that worn, romantic feel and the sheep that she had brought in were combed every morning by her sheep people, who also used to tie ribbons in their wool and around their ears.

It is truly gruesome that they cut off her head but I just don't think you can behave like that and not expect some sort of reaction.

I walked with Marie and Emmanuelle for hours about the massive manicured gardens and through the marble clad, gold guilt buildings. Their commentary was by far the best audio tour in Paris, and I should know, I've heard most of them.

On the way back to Paris, we talked about some of the gruesome acts committed during the Revolution, the French version of superannuation, contemporary art, what is it?, why people in Paris don't eat and walk at the same time and some of the gruesome acts committed by the early pearlers of Broome.

We stop in at Anne's apartment, an old friend of Marie's and a new friend for me. We drink champagne and eat sausage. Then when I think I cannot feel anymore saturated in French-ness for the day, I am whipped off to a little cafe and fed snails.

Just for the record, they do not taste like chicken. I was told they are farmed especially for eating, however I absolutely stand by my assertion at the time, they do taste a little bit like a garden.

Oh! And did I mention that the waiter asked for my number? No?... The waiter asked for my number.

When I eventually curl up under my 5kg doona, I decide that this has been my favourite Paris day so far. I dream about the exciting adventure I have planned for tomorrow, the last day.

Monday, October 24, 2011


I've always said, if you're going to order the champagne, then make it French!

I haven't always said that but if I was a person who could afford to, then I would. So because I'm in another country and I can be whoever I want to be, last night I pretended that I was that person and booked myself into the 'diamond section' at The Crazy Horse strip show!

Before I went though, I had to solve my lack of warm clothing issue. I went to every second hand store I could find in search of a warm, cheap, smart coat. Not possible it seems. However I did get a fabulous long black sheepskin number with big big fur around the sleeves and the collar for just forty euros! All synthetic of course but weighs about as much as my doona and just as warm. Also, because it's way too big, it does have a hobo feel going on, but I think that's all the rage at the moment.

One thing that's never the rage is the second hand clothes shop smell and unfortunately my new coat is a stinker. To take it into the diamond seating league, I hosed it down with my Chanel Mademoiselle perfume. Now teamed with my new Paris shoes and a fancy dress, I was ready to step out into the night!

It took a while to not be self conscious about looking like a homeless person with great shoes, but I took comfort in the fact that I was not going to cry tonight from cold-ness. I pictured myself in a scene from a French film as a walked across the Seine and focused on the glamorous night ahead.

And it was glamorous! And I felt glamorous, from the moment I was greeted at the door of The Crazy Horse and personally escorted to my own private booth, with my own bottle of champagne on ice, with the best view in the house!

It did fall apart a little bit at the cloak room, where a few bits of the coat broke off, but it was quickly forgotten I think. Also, the Chanel perfume was not the solution to the musty smell. As I handed the lady the coat, I cringed at the now very very very sweet musty aroma evaporating off all my clothes.

But once I was settled into my little nook and had time to take in the buzz of anticipation in this 'oh so French!' cabaret lounge (and a few glasses of the bad champagne), all was forgotten.

It doesn't take long for me to get a bit chatty on the cheap stuff, so before the show started I had hauled in a local French girl, her visiting girlfriend from Melbourne and an Estonian cruise ship entertainment producer, who I insisted share my booth with me because her seat was small and measly and obviously not of the diamond variety.

The show was incredible! Classy and exciting and extravagant. Minimal sets and costumes (obviously) but with such spectacular lighting that it felt like a million dollar show... and the ladies were beautiful. They were svelte and porcelain and raunchy.

The sexy vignettes were broken up by a juggling act where two men stripped down to their jocks while hurling enormous bowling pins at each other. Then they dressed again in each other's clothes, still hurling, without ever dropping a pin. The crowd went wild! ...or maybe just me. Regardless, brilliant!

It was cruel to have to leave. My new friends all went home at the end of the show so I felt a little deflated. As I headed towards the cloak room I wondered how I might take some of the night's excitement home with me. I visited the gift shop on the way out and bought two lighters, a pen with a naked girl on it and two sets of 'nippies' (glittery patches that you stick on your nipples)... not really what I was after though.

I snuggled into my stinky coat and walked through the busy Paris night in my new shoes. When I stopped concentrating on manoeuvring around the cobblestones, I looked up and saw the Eiffel Tower, all lit up, just like the stage at The Crazy Horse.

Right next to me on the sidewalk was a little table and chair sitting under a heater. I sat in it, ordered a glass of very nice champagne, a huge slab of terrine with baguette and watched the tower.

I felt very glamorous.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


It's amazing what you run into just by walking around.

The Eiffel Tower was a big one. I wandered around the streets for two hours though before I came across it, all the way from Il de St Louis. Distances are a lot greater than they look on a map.

Along the way I tried to breathe in all the romantic and grand architecture, the river, the smell of bread and pastries, people people people, some green and ancient looking canons, a big gold dome roof, an open air photographic exhibition, car fumes, the sound of French people, the sound of American people, Vespers honking, tiny paved streets off big trafficy streets, more streets...

Where is that tower? It's been hours now. Have I missed it? Is it possible? I consult my 2m x 2m map. I'm standing right behind it.

It becomes enormous as I approach the legs. It is said that there are 2.5 million rivets holding this structure together. That makes me happy. What worries me a little is the hydraulic system used to get those lifts jammed with people up to the top. Two huge pumps at the bottom push that Willy Wonker glass elevator up to the summit on a serrated track so that would be quite suitable for slicing up a regular baguette.

Heights freak me out a little bit and I'm thinking it's pretty cold up there too. Bit of a queue. But more people = less expectation of danger. But then more people = more weight = strain on the serrated track. They've been sending people up there for years = lots of practice bringing the people back down. But older equipment = serrated track could be a bit worn. Everyone looks excited. Happy people = a place I'd like to be. But happy people can also = clueless people and I don't want to come crashing to the ground with a bunch of smiling idiots...

It was incredible. You can see the history of the city evaporating off the buildings, the big gold dome roof, the palaces, the monuments, the museums and the mazes of romantic apartment blocks packed in for warmth all the way to the cloudy horizon.

'I think we're moving.'

Who said that!?

'Yes. The tower is definitely swaying.'

I concentrate on feeling the sway, I think she's right! I look down at the queue of ants on the ground, spin out, punch the lady in the face and walk back towards the lift. All of a sudden I feel the cold.

Have I mentioned how cold it is? The plan was for 16 degree days but I think most of the time it's pushing twelve and that's if the sun comes out. This has actually become a debilitating problem for me as none of my jackets are made from any fibre that stops a person from freezing. They all look fabulous but I have to keep applying makeup to cover up the blue tinge around my mouth. I kick my stupid self at every cold and windy corner for not bringing my big wool jacket.

After spending this afternoon in the apartment near the heater, drinking coffee, eating chocolates and planning a night out completely dependent on how close venues are to warm metro stations, I came to the conclusion that I must buy a new jacket. I finished close to the whole box of chocolates (70% cocoa with mystery centres and gift wrapped with a big bow) and stopped feeling so bad about it all. C'est la vie!

Since the tower, I have flaneured through many streets, eaten at many cafes and stood underneath the works of artisans and legends dating back to the 14th century. There hasn't been a day that this city hasn't blown my mind. However, I'm not going to recite a shopping list of the people I've seen and the places I've been because that's not how I'm traveling. Instead, I will continue to come home at night, pour a glass of wine, sit near my little balcony and write about wherever me and my head have been wandering.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame. So much workmanship! So much wealth!

Just quietly though (because the signs on the front of the churches say you should be quiet and respect that these are places of worship), what is it with the slot machines up the back?

As you wander around, you can hear the ka-ching! ka-ching! echoing through the churches. These are donation machines. For the small amount of two euros these brightly lit card machines will spit out a shiny new commemorative coin for you to take home and put in a draw.

If you happen to miss these, there are many information points scattered around the worshippers where you can leave your cash. The signs will tell you how the bell tower needs replacing or how the organ's out of tune or light a candle for whatever reason and thank you for help in completing this very important work. Leave your money in the box.

People are throwing their money at the buildings! Coins flying everywhere! If you're not careful, you could walk out with little round circle bruises all over you.

After everyone's handed over all their cash to the church and feel like they've made a difference, they walk out into the street and are confronted by beggars everywhere. In fact, you can't walk down a street or sit at a cafe without at least a couple of people asking for money. No chance of getting hit by flying euros here though. Everyone ignores them at best and at worst, yells at them.

For the most part, I have followed the crowd in my response to beggars (not the yelling bit). I do understand that if you start handing out coins, word will get around pretty quickly and before you know it, you'll be the pied piper of Paris.

I am always terribly uncomfortable saying no and I have given out a baguette or two, however I do think there are a few scams going on around town.

The saddest one is using cute dogs to attract donations. People can't help themselves if they see a cute dog. There is a man who sits on the bridge, going towards Notre Dame, who has really got this one sorted. He's been begging solo since I got here, with little interest from the public, but yesterday I walked past and he's managed to get hold of a whole litter of new born puppies. Business is good. A bit of competition for the nearby church.

The other scam involved me. I have baptised this scam, 'the Smeegle'.

All dressed up I am, walking over the Seine towards the Champs Élysées. A girl walking towards me notices something shiny on the ground, she stops to pick it up. She catches my eye and I look in her hand. It's a gold ring! What a find! She looks excited.

'Do you think those numbers on the ring mean that it's real gold?'

'I wouldn't know. Go find out though. It's worth a try.'

We both look at it for a bit and talk about how you might be able to tell if it's gold or not. Stupid conversation. I turn to walk away and she stretches her hand out to me.

'What? I don't want it! You take it! You found it.'

'No. I want you to have it.'

A bit of to and fro. She places it in my hand and closes it around the ring.

'It means good luck for you while you are in Paris.'

Wow! This is truly a special morning! Despite what the ring is made of, and I doubt it's anything but scrap, the gesture made me feel all glowing on the inside.

As I am walking away...

'Miss! Excuse me Miss!'

Did I drop three hundred euros on the ground and she's bringing it back to me? Every cent of it?

'Can I have some money for some food?'

'OK, and why don't you take the ring back? I don't need it.'

'Just some money for some food.'

She looks at me disappointed.

'Some more Miss? I want to buy a sandwich.'

'Of course! What was I thinking? Paris is so expensive. I paid over eight euros the other day for one beer! Can you believe that! One beer! And then yesterday I paid almost six euros for one coffee! Do you know how much that is in Australian dollars? Of course a couple of euros isn't going to buy a sandwich.'

I laugh at my own stupidity and give her some more coins.



'A sandwich is six euros.'


She looks at the coins and then at me. Is that outrage?

'What? Did you want some caviar with that sandwich?'

'An orange juice'


'I want also an orange juice. That's three euros.'

'Look. Why don't you just take the ring back?'


'Ahhhh.... now I get it. You make me feel all warm and cosy and terribly obliged and then you think you can show me your litter of the cutest starving puppies ever and I'll just keep throwing money at you until I don't feel guilty anymore.'

I ended up relieving myself of eight euros worth of guilt before I worked out what was going on.

Between the churches and the scams, you could make quite an expensive holiday of it. Thank God I lost the Catholic guilt years ago.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


The Paris apartment is on the Il de Saint Louis. It is right in the middle of Paris and I have it all to myself. I don't dream about anything this good.

I'm very slow to get out of the apartment in the mornings.

Its around five degrees outside, dark and the doona weighs about five kilos, so its not only hard, but cruel to ask my delicate toes to touch the terra-cotta floor. I push through but then can't get out of the shower because I've set the temperature to 38 degrees and it's toasty toasty! Also, I have about two items of clothing, so it takes me an age to put together an ensemble that's a little different from what I wore the day before.

I did buy a fabulous orange mini skirt in San Sebastian but I have no top to wear with it. I have this constantly on my mind.

Meanwhile, its 11am and I'm still in the apartment, just having a toasted baguette with rhubarb jam and a little cafe next to the little balcony with little potted plants.

Map, camera, euros, key, lip balm, key, sunglasses, key, key, key... et voila!

First time out into the streets of Paris!

So the plan is just to walk about without a plan because I'm too excited to make one. I will not look at the map. I will not hunt down the gothic, ancient, roman, romantic or otherwise. I will just walk.

Huge church. Very big. Map. Notre Dame. Patisserie, Seine, brasserie, beret, huge building, map. The Louvre. Seine, cheap street art, bar, brasserie, bike, bike, beret, chocolates, I heart Paris, cafe, cafe... (do people mind sitting that close together? And when you're done, how do you get out? Do you order at the table, or do you go in and ask? If you don't pronounce consonants at the ends of words, why does it matter what consonant goes there? I didn't think it would be this cold here and these shoes are completely wrong. These are the shoes that gave me the sore back in Barcelona! What was I thinking?)

Eiffel Tower.

It's a bit late in the day to start queuing up now for a peek, so I go to sus out the ticket thing with the lady at information.

'The queue at the North lift has 500 people in it. The queues at the West, East and South tower have eight people in them. Is the North lift the only one that goes to the summit?'

'Non. Sey all go to se top.'

I look at the 500 people at the North lift and then the eight people at all the other lifts.

'So what's the difference? Why are all the people queued up at that one for hours when they could just walk straight up the other one?'

'I don't know.'

'Do you think that's a bit weird that they would do that then? If there's no difference between the lifts? Why are they doing that?'

'Because sey are like sheep.'

I agreed with her and made a plan to come back the next morning before the sheep arrived.

The sun dropped and it immediately became freezing. It smelt cold. It smelt like snow. All I could think about were my ice cube toes and the apartment.. sitting on the comfy couch, in front of the toasty heater, eating fresh baguette with stinky cheese and a glass of Bordeaux vino and watching a movie and then rolling under the 5kg doona for the deepest of sleeps.

So I did that.

It was the best of plans because the next day the city swallowed me up.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Dear Paris,

I love you. I have always loved you.

I realise we've only ever met on the internet and in movies and books and I understand it's a very big thing, me coming here in person, but I need you to take a deep breath and run with it. I promise to try really really hard to be as unobtrusive as possible, if you try not to act like an arsehole.

Arrive at Orly airport, Paris. Tres excited! (Yes. I am going to drop in little French phrases every now and then so you know that my au fait-ness is coming along).

...tres excited. Instructions on how to get to the middle of Paris in hand. Looks easy, but then it always does on paper.

Information desk at airport arrivals:

'I need to get the bus 285 to the Louis Aragon metro. Where do I get that bus from?'

'Ahhh... not from here. You have to get the car park bus to P10 and get off at the Ibis Hotel and the bus stop is there.'


Luggage hauled onto car park bus and to the Ibis. No 285 bus stop.

'where is the 285 bus stop?'

'Ahhh... I think you need to go back to the airport arrivals and ask at information'

Tears welling up in eyes. Tears stop because the 'you are travelling alone so no one else is going to get you out of here' survival instinct kicks in.


'...or it may be that one across the road?'

Yes it may well be! I will go there.

Yes. It is. Punch the sky!

Spend enough time here for my face to get burnt, but me and my big fluorescent pink bag are eventually safe in a vehicle that is going in the right direction.

Arrive at Louis Aragon metro. Lots of stairs.

Can't make the ticket machine do what I want it to do. Breathe and try again.

Can't make the ticket machine do what I want it to do.

'Please please please Mrs ticket lady! Please help me buy a ticket to Pont Marie!'

'To what?'

People who pretend they don't know what you're saying so you're forced to repeat what you said badly the first time: this is she.

'Really? You're going to pull me up on the very first thing I try and say in French?

I've just left a country where only three people spoke to me in English for the entire two weeks. I have been verbally isolated for this entire time, in which I lost kilos because the effort to ask for the food became greater than my hunger. Do you understand? I am a very thin woman with a bit of cabin fever and I need a ticket to that place I can't say very well. That's all I need and I'll be on my way.'

On my way.

Gosh, the metro trains are very crowded aren't they? My big fluorescent pink bag is in everyone's way and everyone is angry about it but there's nothing I can do... or say. I ride it out, proud that I have luggage.

'I've been somewhere! Somewhere reeeeally nice! Spain actually... that's why I have big luggage. Big holiday, big luggage. That's what they say. Been anywhere lately? My stop. Have to fly!'

Not a graceful exit and then as I trolley along the platform, I see that there are no lifts. Lots of stairs though. And then, the world shifts...

Through the tide of commuters pushing me along, I see a man, a really really handsome man, pushing his way through all the people towards me.

Enter! My Knight In Shining Armour!

In French, 'Can I elp you up se stair wis your big fluorescent pink bag?'

Melting like froi gras on a hot chorizo... 'Oui, merci!'

My KISA struggles with the luggage up the first flight of stairs but while I'm thinking about how to tell him how grateful I am when we get to the top, he vanishes! ...well, runs actually.

Was it my accent? The bag was very heavy but you don't save the maiden from the tower and then leave her to be raped and pillaged by the villagers!

I emerge from the metro, pulling a muscle in my groin as I heave the heavy bag onto the street.


I can't speak. There's the Seine, right in front of me. It's Sunday afternoon and people are sitting on the riverside eating baguettes and drinking wine and stealing the last of a warm sun from the cold day.

A few cobblestones later and I am here. In this so very lovely and Parisian apartment.

I am in Paris.

Friday, October 14, 2011


Yes indeed. What an incredible building this one is! A big slap on the back to Frank and the team for pulling this one together! It's enough to put the artwork within it's walls to shame and thats a big call... maybe too big.

Let's just say, whether you're looking at a Jackson Pollack that could wallpaper an entire 80s themed house or walking through Richard Serra's overwhelming metal sculptures (how did they get them in here? and I've never gone into a panic over steel before), you never forget where you are.

My eyes kept drifting off the artwork and up to the glass ceilings or along the curved walls and down to... woops! a big shoe print right at the base of that sculpture on the pristine white part!

I wandered around in there for most of the day, wondering, are architects mathematicians or artists? It's beyond me how anyone can create something so beautiful and complicated and at the same time be absolutely sure that it's not going to fall down on everyone.

Every place that you visit has an audio tour. No exception here.

I am standing in front of a sculpture that is a plain bronze ball on a marble stand, my headphones say to me

'This is a sculpture of startling simplicity'.

It didn't startle me but I did have a little giggle. Oh ohh... The seed of misbehaviour!

I am standing in front of a huge canvas. It is completely black. The headphones are talking about the complexity of 'the white line'. The white line... the white line... aha! I see it now! Right at the top of the canvas. It's very small.

The headphones tell me that all the canvases in this room have complex white lines and are all exploring the same theme. I turn around and see that there is one of these huge black square canvases on every wall. I also see that there has been a man standing next to me the whole time. He has been listening to the commentary about the line too. We both look at each other for a moment and then explode with laughter.

We walk away from the painting, laughing out loud. People are looking now. He's going off about something in Italian and I'm talking back in English and we keep saying 'comprende!' to each other and then have to leave the room because it's too funny to be in there anymore.

The headphones also made mention of an artist who went off and worked in a factory so he could get in touch with the common man. I wished the Italian guy was around for that one.

I've always said, there's a fine line between great street theatre and being a wanker.

I'm not shitting on the art. I loved it. All three hours of it. However, there's always potential for wobbly receptions when it comes to creative productions, because they're so subjective. Its like other people's dress sense, you can find what another person's wearing completely laughable while they proudly walk around confident in their own imagined style... and we all know this works the other way around.

How often have you heard about the artists who never got to experience their own popularity because, while they were alive, everyone thought their work was crap? Well a lot of them are hanging in this incredible building and I've been thinking about them all day.

A big slab of my admiration to the artists out there who believe so strongly in what they create, that they devote their entire lives to creating it, despite what people say. That sort of focus and passion can evolve into some incredibly beautiful pieces of art, even if it does take half a century before someone appreciates it.

I think it does the Guggenheim justice to have the work of such people hanging on it's walls.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011



Whether it's true or not, when someone says this, it means you have to start gesticulating a lot and trying to remember words from the phrase book that will eventually get you some lunch.

It's amazing what you can accomplish by pointing and throwing your arms around. The process gets me by, but I suspect there is a little amusement at my expense? Actually, considering the stuff I've accidentally said to people, I'm positive.

When you're hurdling the language and protocol solo, there is no time for shame. You lay yourself out on the slab and let them chop you up. I don't mind so much, having a laugh at yourself is good for the soul. It would be nice however to share the vulnerability with a good friend sometimes.

So here, I share.

'Cafe solo' does not mean 'No cake with the coffee thanks, just the coffee'. It means you want it black. When it comes out black and you ask for some milk, be ready for a good slap around the ears.

When you go into a bar and ask for a 'vino' and the bar man looks blankly at you, don't yell 'vino!' at his face. He can hear you. 'v' is pronounced 'b'

So now you've got the 'b' thing sorted, you can walk into a bar and ask for a 'bino'. Still not very helpful to anyone. You might as well walk into a restaurant and ask for 'food'.

Dont tell the waiter that the 'servicios' was great. You're talking about the toilet.

You can be very prepared and learn lots and lots of questions in the local language. You can mince about with a puffy sleeved blouse and your guitar flung over your shoulder, asking for 'the bill', 'the toilet', in what shop you might buy some bandaids, 'have you seen that handsome man I was kissing passionately just over there last night?'... But unless you also learn the answers to the questions, you will inevitably slide back into the charades routine.

The energy that it takes to communicate the simplest things can be exhausting, however apart from being a laugh most of the time, your efforts can take you to some nice places too.

I felt inclined to read my book all afternoon, it was going to be the closest thing I would get this week to a conversation with anyone. (Have you any idea what it's like to talk to yourself for five days solid? The conversations are starting to make it into the audible world).

Me and the book found a sidewalk bench overlooking an incoming tide at the mouth of the Maria Christina River. Very grey, very dramatic.

An old man sat down next to me and so we watched the huge swell break against the rocks together. I so badly wanted to have a chat but I suspected that wouldn't be likely. It must have been a good 15 minutes before he piped up and said something. He was so disappointed when I told him I couldn't understand what he was saying. Me too.

So we sat there for a little while longer and then we just started chatting.

Antonio lives at the end of the Maria Christina River, which travels inland for 10km. He comes to this place every day because it makes him feel calm. Antonio's whole body is shaking, so I think he has Parkinson's Disease. I ask him and he says yes.

He owns a taverna and pintxos bar in the old town but he can't work there anymore because of the shaking.

He has two children and three grandchildren, they are one, two and four.

Wednesday is a national festival but he's not so interested in celebrating this one because the roots of the celebration are South American. He!he!

We talked until it was dark, thanked each other for the chat and then we both left.

San Sebastian's a very beautiful city. It's stunning. I've loved walking around the narrow streets, watching how the Spanish spend their holidays, eating the most incredible food, drinking top shelf wines and backyard wines, trying on beautiful clothes, timing how long it takes for a croissant to completely dissolve in my mouth, following the dogs and their city life adventures and trying to stay up really late so I don't miss anything.

So a big fat 'grassy arse' to all you chefs, bakers, barmen and bitches! ...and a special adios to my new amigo, Antonio. It was lovely to have met you!

Now looking forward to the Guggenheim in Bilbao and then... the 'pizza resistance'! Paris!

Monday, October 10, 2011

DAY 8 - SAN SEBASTIAN: grassy arse

I look absolutely wild. My hair and clothes have taken on a life of their own.

What am I wearing?

On a good friend's advice, I went out to 'hit the bars' last night. I've been told I need to add more meat to the blogs. A few gutter stories and a little bit of outrageous behaviour.

So a girl walks into a bar... (before I go on, I need to let you know that 'thank you' in Spanish is 'gracias', pronounced 'grutheeus'. So it's like you have a lisp, until you get to the end of the word, and then you don't. Say 'grassy arse' with a lisp and no one will notice the difference he! he!)... but I digress...

A girl walks into a bar. It's packed with rich Spanish people, all grabbing their pintxos off the bar (pronounced 'pynchos', think of hors d'oeuvres and then double the size) and yelling their drink orders. Girl pushes her way through the herd to the food infested bar, with little hope that anyone will see her and knowing that if someone does, she will have to break into a phrase book scenario that will probably not be appropriate for this scenario.

The barman raises an indifferent eyebrow at her, so she orders a red wine. He looks at her as if to say 'can you narrow that down for me?'

Girl looks back blankly 'I can't help you with that.'

Barman pours a glass of whatever's closest. Actually 'pour' is not the right word. The barmen here don't pour, they throw. The wine is thrown into the glass. Girl tastes thrown wine. Excellent! Now she must thank him for his excellent choice and accurate throwing.

'grassy arse!'

Girl laughs out loud at her hilarious joke and then realises she can never come here again.

No meat. Sorry to disappoint.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Thanks to ibuprofena, some yoga (a la Fabio) and a day of rest, I have been liberated from my hip pain. So I continue with a heightened sense of not being made of steel and I have ditched the sense of urgency. Breathing.

It was a perfect day today.

La Pedrera will be my new apartment building. Gaudi has spent all of his imagination and style on this building and I am happy to give up my entire life's work and all the happiness I am owed to take on the lease for one of these apartments.

I will take the dog, of course, and my great friend Markus will join me. He will also bring his dog. I will also take my friends, as there are spare bedrooms. These spare rooms were originally established as the servant's quarters, however this will in no way reflect the hierarchy that operates in the house. (I may, every now and then, request a cup of tea be brought up the 20 flights of stairs to the rooftop).

I'm not sure how we shall live yet, but when the passionate people of Gracia become independent, I'm sure we could find some work helping out with garbage collection or other local services that they haven't thought about managing yet. Gracia is only a few Metro stops away from la Pedrera, so this will be convenient and leave maximum time for apartment dwelling.


Fabio: Hola! Alex! Are you sleeping? ( knock knock knock)

Fabio has made one of his fabulous offers to take me to one of his favourite cafes for a healthy meal. Every time Fabio makes this offer, it seems to also entail a few hours of walking around the streets with commentary, so of course.

...and that's what we do. Beetroot salad, beetroot juice (probably could have ordered more thoughtfully) and then hours of strolling through the Gothic streets of Barcelona. These are Fabio's favourite streets and buildings, despite the tourist invasion in the last decade that has stolen some of the romanticism for him.

Fabio: You won't see the old lady in black sitting in the street anymore.

Aqueducts, gargoyles, churches, roman columns, old city walls, a little cafe and a glass of red wine.

We left America St in the afternoon. We got back at half ten.

I would not see Fabio in the morning because I had to be at the train station very early, so he wrapped presents for me to take home before I went to bed, including a cocoa nut and CDs with some of his favourite movies, music and video clips.

I also bought a painting from his wall. Now I will have something to remind me of the gorgeous Fabio, America St and the incredible city he is so passionate about.

It will also remind me of the enormous number of fabulous friends I have all over the world, but just haven't met yet.

en route San Sebastian.

Friday, October 7, 2011


Oh dear. I have overdone the walking and my body is terribly angry with me.

An old hip injury has decided to emerge, which apart from being incredibly painful and making it impossible to get around, had me feeling quite depressed by the end of yesterday.

This morning, after a bit of epiphanic reflection ( is that a word? epiphanic? I'm not getting that red line under it telling me I can't spell, so it must be) and some loving advice from my soul buddy back home, I am feeling relieved and glad things have gone sideways for a minute. This is the way I'm looking at it:

My life is full of activity, whether I'm at work or not. There's rarely a moment I'm not doing something 'constructive'. I came on this trip to take a break from that and I haven't stopped running about like a disorientated chook. Its hard not to, in such an exciting place but now my body is forcing me to take a breath.

So over the next 2 days I will exhale. I will get a massage, read a book on Fabio's sunny terrace and get a little care pack from the delectable ham and cheese market down the road.

On Sunday, I will sit on a train all day and watch the countryside pass, while I breathe all the way up to San Sebastian by the sea. I may write some more before then, I may not.


Sold my soul to 'Bus Touristic'.

You know the big red double decker buses with audio commentary that transport tourists around major world cities? Got on it. Yep... sat up the top in the sun and listened to an English guy with a lisp talk about buildings, harbours, vistas and such. While it was for the most part as daggy as it looks, it was an easy way to get to places that I might otherwise have missed.

I wandered through the Miro exhibition and Gaudi's Casa Batllo, I ate tapas in the Santa Maria del Mar square and fantasised about buying furry hats that I could never wear because I live in Broome. I practiced asking for the bill and the whereabouts of the toilet and I am pleased to say, that people are no longer looking confused when I ask these questions.

Back to America St for a siesta because I am having dinner with Fabio tonight. At 10pm. .???

For dinner: torro rico, rico = bull's tail very, very tasty (that's the 'rico rico' bit)... and it was particularly tasty, although I couldn't get the bits of tail out of my teeth for hours.

Fabio took me for a digestion walk afterwards, through the tiny bar lined streets of a suburb I can't remember the name of now. It may have been Gracia but I can't be sure because the names of the ancient public squares, old buildings, political movements and festivals all got mashed into my sleepy brain, along with the hundreds of people chatting and drinking in the squares and the reasons why they want this particular suburb to become independent of Spain. Just this suburb. (Fabio wasn't sure whether anyone had thought about the logistics of garbage collection and stuff like that.)

There was also a history of South America thrown into the mix, something about wiping out a whole race so that the sheep would have somewhere to go.

Fabio's tour: rico rico

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


I have a blister on the top of my left foot because I walked 68 000 kms today in stupid shoes. I also have a sunburnt face because it's supposed to be cold but it's really hot. Gaudi went all Dali on me and I never woke from my siesta... Today was epic!

This trip would be worth it if all I saw was Sagrada Familia. SF, you blew my mind.

How did Gaudi get people to look at the design of a building that would take over 100 years to construct and get this reply:

'We don't think you're crazy. We're really loving the whole dripping stone effect, the massive cross you can see as you approach from the sea and the indoor forrest thing you've got going on. The whole concept is really fresh and original. Let's start anyway and see how we go.'

I can't describe the building or take a photo of it that will justify the experience. Let's just say it was thrilling enough to send me clamouring into the queue at the present shop on my way out. I don't think the fridge magnet will be a profound reminder to me of how incredibly creative human beings can be, but it felt right at the time.

Now I am walking the streets of Barcelona inspired by the master, so I go in search of more Gaudi magic.

Parc Guell, here I come!

On Fabio's recommendation, I walk the 5km to Guell park, via Guinardo park, which is on a very steep hill with breathtaking views of the city. It's s big climb but worth it and from up the top I can wave to SF.

I'm not sure about how to get out of this park or in which direction the next park is, so I just start walking. The map I have doesn't have a lot of detail on it, just numbers where stuff is, but I pride myself on the inner compass I was blessed with, so I walk.

I am still walking quite some time later, however I am not resenting the time wandering through the streets of suburbs no one has ever heard of before.

Friendly Barcelonians, I thank you for your guidance! Not always a lot of English going on, but it's incredible what you can discover through gesticulation. And so, I arrive at Parc Guell.

People people people everywhere! But not in a 'I should have waited until it was cold and raining' kind of way. It felt like a big fairytale party. There were children screaming out of the Gaudi house windows, parents screaming at the kids who were screaming, lots of laughing and lounging around the big Gaudi chair for 400, a flamenco guitarist, a Japanese wedding photo shoot, tiles tiles tiles, languages languages languages, adults scrambling with children for a photo on the lizard's back, cameras x infinity! And then the ascension to the top of the park, where I found an insane dirty rocker playing guitar and singing in what he thought was English.

While this was one of the highlights of my day, it wasn't for everyone. There was exception taken to the filthy state of the leopard spandex jumpsuit and the song that started, 'fuck fuck fuck fuck' and then ended like that too, but I loved him. It all fell together for me right there.

Beautiful. Surreal.

Surreal is also how I would describe by trip back to America St. The gesticulation went all sideways and I ended up in a place I can't tell you about because I don't think it's on my map, not that I had much of a chance, because the map I have has now divided itself into 4 separate pieces where the folds were and I can't put it back together.

So after the incorrect bus and a long blistered foot walk, I eventually sucked it up a jumped in a taxi, which dropped me around the corner from where I got in it. Who would have thought my internal compass could have brought me so close to where i needed to be?

Two beers on the terrace + hot shower = siesta. It was about 8pm by then. I never woke up. All plans of Barcelona buildings by night and a paella feast, lost in a state of pure exhaustion.

I have woken this morning in the dark. My stomach is screaming and my feet are wailing. Ready for another day.

Dirty rocker movie and pics on my FB mobile uploads.

Monday, October 3, 2011


I am at 32 America St Guinardo, Barcelona. My host is Fabio Fossatti. A 30 hour non stop food fest brought me here. On arrival, Fabio gave me the tour and the maps I will need and I gave him a packet of crocodile jerky and a tea towel with some suspect 'authentic' Aboriginal art.

My first night was restless, full of semi conscious conversations with Fabio about what bag would be most appropriate to take walking through the streets of the city. Now I am awake, I'm still not sure about this issue.

The lamp on the left side of my bed is lime green and skinny and the shade is tilted permanently to the side. I realised this when I tried to straighten it up. It's sitting on a little red table with a 'del la Juego Oxa 63' board game top.

I will show you some pictures of the furniture in this room because then you will understand why I need to live here, in this house, forever. Then I will head up to the roof top garden and watch all the people in America St go to work.

I think the blue bag will be adequate for today, it doesn't scream 'I am a tourist carrying around heaps of Euros and probably therefore a lot of other valuable documents'.


I think I love Barcelona. I have only been here one day, but already I feel very much a part of the ancient culture and completely at one with the people. My vocabulary stretches only as far as asking for the toilet and the bill at the moment but there is certainly a strong magnetism between myself and all of these momentarily foreign words and I'm sure the lisping thing that people do will become much easier as time passes.

I do feel my 'Frenchness' has been a little betrayed and there have been some occasions where Spanish and French words have been confused (such are the downfalls of being the continental traveller) however, if I am completely honest with myself, Barcelona is now where my heart lies and I must be true to that. So having said...

Breakfast at America32: home made muesli with white chocolate, a baguette with lashings of butter, a fresh coffee and a baguette to go!

The Hospital de San Pau is just around the corner from America St, so first sight seeing stop for the trip. It was incredibly beautiful. I wonder if there would ever be a construction project in our time that would dedicate so many hours and labour and art to a building. The tour guide lady was great too. My first interaction with my new countrymen / women.

Tour guide: so the hospital was divided ( this is in a Spanish accent by the way, so just keep that in mind and apply it as best you can) the hospital complex was divided into two halves, one for the men and one for the women. The men's buildings we're protected by the saints, the women were protected by virgins.

Alex: (shared with the group) Where did they find them? (to myself) and who determined whether they were virgins or not? And even if they were, not really what I'd consider 'reliable protection'. I think if I was ill and needed a guard at my door, I would rather someone who has performed 3 miracles than a young shepherdess who's never had sex before.

From this fun filled tour I met 2 lovely ladies, one from Japan and the other, one of my other countrywomen, France. Our little post tour cafe stop was a welcoming way to start the Barcelona week and also useful. I learned me how to get in to see the Sagrada Familia without standing in that 2 hour queue. The process, which involved putting a card with a lot of money on it, into a machine that I couldn't locate the 'English' button on, took about 2 hours, however I felt empowered that I had already worked my way around the system and so sat under the Sagrada Familia, having a beer and feeling happy that tomorrow, I would be walking past all those people and straight through the gates.

I am extremely excited about Sagrada Familia. I have never seen anything like it and no photograph could ever capture how you feel when you stand beneath those towering spires that drip past the bird filled tree and melt around the windows all the way to the ground. It's alive that building and you know that everyone thinks so because when they stand near it, they cant help but look up. We are all hypnotised.

And hungry!

Down to the old town for a feed and a wander through the narrow paved alleys and a look in the shops that sell touristy dinky stuff. Bought some dink and then, when I thought I would pass out from over walking and lack of food, wandered into a little square filled with, as it turned out, very expensive tapas bars.

I am alone and yes, this has the potential to feel awkward when you take one of only 4 tables in an apparently highly sought after eating spot. People hover around you like pigeons, looking frustrated and bemused at how you could possibly have the nerve to look comfortable putting so many to such inconvenience.

Smart people however, approach you and tell you they will absolutely die if they don't start their first glass of wine now (it being so late in the afternoon and all) and could they join you?

Yes! And so followed a lovely hour or so with the Dutch couple who had been coming to this particular bar for years. So we chatted and they recommended wine and I recommended the cured tuna and they said they had eaten and then it was time for the girl from 'down under' to hit the coblestones again.

I then got terribly lost trying to find la Ramblas, the biggest tourist strip in the entire city, which was only meters away from me the entire time i was walking in circles. I went there to recci a friend's hotel, so when I returned that night, in the dark, I would have the Metro and the orientation sorted.

I ended up being an hour late for dinner because I got off the metro and walked exactly the same circles I had done that afternoon. I have woken this morning completely baffled as to why I automatically went the wrong way again. It's almost like I had gone there in the afternoon to practice getting it wrong.

So dinner was late, 9.30. The fact that I could so easily stay up this late is just more proof that I belong here.