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So after the Seattle Swans, where did 2018 go?

I worked.

Most of this year has been very, very busy at work. I’m ready to slack.

Paris Encore

Oh, right, I returned to Paris one more time, in late March, with the hopes of seeing cherry blossoms and other springtime beauty.  But I had to work.  Yes, I telecommuted from Paris for several days. And missed most of the cherry blossoms.  And failed to make it up La Tour Eiffel, which I fully intended to do this time (stupid online ticketing system). And didn’t ride Le Batobus because the Seine was so high, many of the stations were flooded and the water too high under some of the bridges.  And felt too self-conscious/time-crunched to dine out this time. And failed to realize being there over Passover meant L’As du Falafel would be closed.  And was not feeling self confident enough to enter a Diptyque boutique, which was on my list.  But the apartment was wonderful, I did get to enjoy early spring buds in several lovely parks, and I had the thrill of a local lady at a bus stop asking me about the bus times, I think.

A New Addiction Blooms

Hey!  I became a fragrance junkie in 2018!  Or at least went full-on into my fragrance journey, seeking my one true love. Turns out I found many true loves, depending in the season, the time of day, my mood, etc.

I blame this on the room spray that was in my second Paris apartment back in December 2016 (that trip when I saw Swan Lake several times), the one with the macerating toilet that really needed a room spray, and it was labeled Muji fig balsam or something like that.  I would have loved it even without the macerating toilet. When I returned to the States, I unsuccessfully searched for that spray fragrance.

Fast forward to July 2017, in the lovely small inn in Milan. The bottle of body lotion in that bathroom smelled so much like that room spray!  When I returned to the States,  after the remains of that bottle of lotion were released from the six-week bedbug quarantine, I enjoyed it for a few more weeks, then unsuccessfully searched for that lotion fragrance.

Until I discovered Diptyque Figuier room spray.  This was it!  That fragrance!  Yay!

So then I got a sample of the corresponding Diptyque Philosykos perfume.  Which isn’t something that smelled good on me.

But then I bought a bunch of other Diptyque fragrance samples from smallflower.com. And fell in love with Eau Duelle.

And discovered fragrantica.com. And started reading about and collecting samples of all kinds of fragrances to test.  And couldn’t stop.  Or wouldn’t. And discovered you can buy a sample of just about anything from eBay.

And now I have more perfume than I will ever use up in my remaining years.  Plus a bunch of samples that aren’t fragrances for me that I hope to re-home.

Driving and Driving around Washington State

For work.  In June and July and August.

The Cat Health Issues

Lucy’s chronic UTIs, Ella’s eye meltdown, Lucy’s basal cell tumors (to be removed in a couple of weeks), other things I’ve already forgotten.

The Chicago Swans

That’s not the name of a sports team, is it? I saw Swan Lake again in late October in the Windy City. The ballet team this time was the Joffrey, performing Christopher Wheeldon’s story-within-story retelling, with imagery straight out of a Degas painting. Lovely.

The Stories within Stories of Carlos Ruiz Zafón

I read The Shadow of the Wind early in the year, then The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven in the autumn.  Today, I finished The Labyrinth of Spirits.  I read other stuff this year but can’t remember what in the wake of these epic works.

And also …

Probably other significant things I am forgetting.

Achilles tendinopathy that came on this fall, fortunately repaired with physical therapy.

Too much attention to national news, consumed too often on the hand-held device, resulting by being sickened by each new low from the evil brat in chief and his greedy obsequious enablers.  Resolution number one for 2019 is to break the steady news habit.  (Although SNL and Last Week Tonight are encouraged because they make me laugh.)

Not enough drawing or painting. Resolution number two is to try once again to make that a habit.

I have begun pining for the northern part of the east coast, dreaming of returning to my childhood homeland. Oh, New England…

So goodbye to 2018.  Here’s hoping for good things in 2019.

 

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Impressions from this run of Swan Lake at PNB, after seeing all nine performances, are listed in no particular order.

After seeing Swan Lake in Paris, San Francisco, and Milan, PNB’s/Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake is still my favorite version, because of the fourth act, and the corps staging in the second act. The swans, the ruins-like set, the lighting are magic, dreamlike.

All five of the Odettes in this run were exquisite, with Noelani Pantastico’s performances as standouts for me.  Tonight she was also especially dazzling as Odile, seeming to take risks in timing. (WOW, the fish dive/drop with stellar partner Seth Orza… did they plan that?… and that centrifugal force spin near the end?)  And this afternoon, Lesley Rausch was dazzling in a more controlled way… a flawless performance, with triumphant joy after thrillingly rocking the fouettés. Laura Tisserand’s beautiful lines and emotional performances, Elizabeth Murphy’s clarity and vulnerability, and Sarah Orza’s achingly beautiful arm ripples and timing choices (what a debut!) all wowed me. All five of them broke my heart at the end, especially Noelani.

All five of the Siegfrieds were very fine.  The standouts for me were Karel Cruz (as always … if not for the music, would he spin forever, and hover in the air forever?) and Dylan Wald, who made an impressive debut while still in the corps de ballet.

Regardless of the leads, the 24-swan ensemble is the real star of this ballet.

And the orchestra. And that epic score.

Beyond the swans, the czardas is my favorite group dance.  I especially enjoy watching Steven Loch dance this dance (as well as the Spanish dance) with such gusto.

In the role of Wolfgang, it’s hard for me to choose a favorite between Ezra Thomson and Kyle Davis; both steal the first act show.  Both played the character with increasing richness as the run progressed, and both made me laugh out loud today.

My favorite seats in the house for this ballet are front role left of center, because I get to see the comic relief unfold up close, have the longest possible view of Odette’s final exit, experience the flock rustling when they are running circles and serpentines, and have no one else between me and the orchestra. It’s also a convenient location to quickly exit at intermission and dash to the secret bathrooms near the lecture hall that almost no one else uses.

It was a dream to be immersed in this run.  Now it’s time to catch up on sleep and return to regular life, but hopefully carrying a bit of the magic inside me until the next time.

It’s swan season again in the Pacific Northwest. Once again I’m seeing all of them.  It’s what I do.

Last night’s Odette/Odile, Noelani Pantastico, was transcendent. I feel unable to articulate how beautiful and moving her performance was.

The entire production was especially magical last night.  Whatever the next six performances bring, and all the future swans, last night was a dream that I hope lingers for a very long time.

 

 

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green on green on green

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mossy

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westward ho

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down and around

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On a clear day, you can see Mount Rainier

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pretend Italy

 

Note to self: next time you feel grumbly about living in a building that sometimes feels like it is held together by duct tape applied by volunteers that comprise only 15% of everyone who co-owns it, just go for a walk. Be it ever so humble, at least home is in walking distance to all this beauty and more.

Having slept better than most Sundays into Mondays

This morning’s excitement:

A moth on the bedroom ceiling

Struggling to get to the moon

Both cats trying to get to the moth

It’s still up there, no longer in motion

And after their breakfast

They’ve returned to

The stakeout.

It was called Trader Giotto’s Bruschetta Sauce.

It was lovely on tortilla chips. Or simply on a spoon would do.

 

But then I ate too much and, um, made myself sick from it.

The journey ended with three nights in Venice, an architecturally magical city I had visited for several days in May 1994, and been captivated by then. This time I arrived at the end of an exhausting journey, still badly bruised from the fall in Giverny (my ribcage has only just returned to unpainful, but my right knee hasn’t quite yet), and still fearful of carrying insect stowaways. The original plan was to be a houseguest in a family-owned apartment, but rather than risk leaving said stowaways with them, they generously put me up in a nice air-conditioned vacation rental a short walk from their apartment.

Venice in July was hot, humid, and burgeoning with tourists and mosquitos. My body craved rest. These conditions were not ideal for enjoying the city. But I did thrill in seeing the buildings and bridges and boats, eating some very yummy meals and gelato, and visiting the La Fenice, which we toured during the second day and to which we returned for an evening of chamber music. The day before, we visited San Michele, which was beautifully peaceful and fragrant of cedar (or some tree that reminded me of cedar), but uncomfortable in the heat and limited mid-day shadows. The highlight of my last night there was a lovely evening cruise around the city on a vaporetto.

The vaporetti are Venice’s water-borne buses, and practically demanded Sailor Babo coverage, as did the ubiquitous gondolas, which I rode once to cross the Grand Canal in a form of public transit service called the traghetto.

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Look closely, and you may notice that the gondolier is doing something on a hand-held mobile device.

For a glimpse of what else caught my eyes during this time in Venice, I invite you to scroll through the photos posted here.

(Eventually, photos of Milan, Giverny, and Paris will be uploaded to Flickr as well. I’m slowly working my way backward through thousands of images.)

Friday, July 7: So after another high-speed train ride — through the southern Alps! — I made it to Milan.

Milan, more specifically seeing Alexei Ratmansky’s Swan Lake at La Scala, was the impetus for this whole trip.

Milan was the city in which I was only looking forward to La Scala, having read that it wasn’t very scenic or some such. But turns out I really liked Milan. It helped that I had splurged on a lovely terrace room in a lovely little hotel in the historic district (to be able to easily walk to and from La Scala) for the two nights spent there. And it helped that I met up with my brother and sister-in-law there, and would be going to Venice with them, so would not have to struggle with language (they have learned to speak Italian) (not that it was an issue in the touristy area). But I liked the city itself enough to want to return some day.

The highlights this visit include:

  • La Scala and Il lago dei cigni, of course.
  • The bella locanda, to which I sincerely hope I did not bring any unwanted guests along with me. It was too hot to really enjoy the terrace after about 10 a.m., but I have no regrets on the splurge.
  • The roof of the Duomo, despite the heat, the crowd, and the scary last-flight-of-stairs-to-the-top climb.
  • The Sforza Castle, where I only had time to see a handful of its many art and history museums.
  • The cozy, friendly Caffe Vecchia Brera, where I enjoyed two meals on Saturday.
  • Gelato. Twice!
  • The public transit system.  I only rode a couple of subway lines – very easy to use – but enjoyed ogling the streetcars and trams and buses (remember, I’m a transit geek). Next time, I’ll ride them and explore some other neighborhoods.

 

Ciao until next time, Milano!

And finally on to Venezia…

Wednesday, July 5: Notes to self: if you ever return to Giverny by train, do it as a full day trip, or for at least two nights.  A single overnight, relying in public transportation around rigid B&B check-in and check-out times, was not enough to make this leg of the trip satisfying. In any case, if you do return to that same B&B, take a cab from the station rather than the bus to the Monet parking lot. Oh, and don’t bother trying to use the toilet at the Vernon train station.* And most importantly: watch where you step.

*Which is where you pay 30 cents to enter, see the flooded squat toilet, and flee in horror.

So. After another lovely breakfast at the hotel and last coffee with the breathtaking terrace view, I waved goodbye to the rooftops of Paris, and made my way to the Gare Saint-Lazare, where I played spot-the-pickpocket until it was time to board the train to Vernon/Giverny.

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(Photos of the Gare Saint-Lazare can be seen in Sailor Babo’s chronicles.  Can you spot the pickpocket?)

Riding a train through the French countryside has been on my list of things to do in life for quite some time. This one was a brief but pleasant introduction.

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Check-in at the bed and breakfast in Giverny was not until 15:00, so I had lunch at the cafe across from the Vernon station and tried to stay in the shade before catching the bus to Giverny. The Giverny bus stop was about a 25-minute walk to the B&B. I paused to hydrate and get my bearings among the nearby trees, began to stride toward the path, felt my foot catch on something unyielding, and went down. Hard. Face inches from a big rock as well as the sharp edge of the roadway. Weighted down by a backpack full of books (or were they bricks?), my chest compressed. It was quite frightening (as well as painful).

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I tripped and fell here.

A kind French family came to my assistance and made sure I didn’t need medical attention before they cycled off. After a brief cry, conscious breathing, gingerly getting back on my feet (my right knee took part of the brunt of the fall), and strapping back on the backpack, I slowly made my way to the B&B, showered, and then limped back to the Monet Foundation in time for a whole hour of garden-viewing before it closed. At least it was the quietest hour, apparently. And lovely enough to take away the pain.

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Dinner at a nearby creperie also helped heal my wounds, capped off by the third ice cream of the journey.

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I really need to learn not to order things with an egg on top.

Dinner was followed by the slowest walk of the day through the charming village of Giverny. At this hour the tourists were gone and the village was quiet, almost magical in the late afternoon shadows, only the pollinators busy doing their thing.

 

And finally there was the lovely garden view from my room for the night.

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Thursday, July 6: After a delicious breakfast shared with three boisterous women from Belgium, it was time to return to Paris to catch another train to Lyon. Aware of my injuries from yesterday’s fall, my kind hostess drove me to the Vernon train station, where I was able to catch an earlier train than originally planned, which was good since I got lost navigating the Saint-Lazare station to find the Metro line 14 to get to another station in Paris, the Gare de Lyon, where I got lost again finding the platform to the train to Lyon.  The extra layover time also allowed for a nice lunch at the station, complete with iconic snooty waiter (actually the first I have encountered so far in Paris).

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I was too full from the pasta I ate here to order ice cream.

 

From Paris, I took the high-speed TGV to Lyon, which turned out to be stopped on the edge Paris for an hour waiting for an accident down the line (yikes) to be cleared. But eventually we got going, and I enjoyed the view from a window seat on the upper level during the journey to Lyon.

Which brings us to Lyon.

Lyon was the city I really wanted to spend more than one overnight in on this journey, but my ballet tickets and squeezing in the overnight in Giverny made that impossible.

Lyon was the city in which I was looking forward to exploring the famed traboules for a couple of hours at least .

By the time the train finally made it to the station, given my injuries, Lyon had become the city in which I was looking forward to doing laundry at the hotel (I had booked a room near the train station) and getting a good night’s sleep.

Upon arrival, Lyon became the city with the overcrowded clusterfuck rail platform, the overcrowded confusing rail station, and highest temperature I experienced during the entire journey. The rail station with inadequate wayfinding signage (or maybe I just missed it in my desperation to escape, through what turned out to be the wrong side). Where the chain hotel I’d booked had several variants near the station, and naturally I followed the signs to the wrong one, lugging my bags of bricks in the heat through overcrowded rush hour traffic street construction six blocks to the wrong hotel, where I had a meltdown in the middle of a crosswalk on the way back to the station, crossed through to the other side, emerged still kind of crying, and finally arrived at the correct hotel, only to learn there were no laundry facilities, but oh well at least I had an air-conditioned room where I could do a little hand laundry and still get a good night’s sleep.

But then Lyon became the city where I found the bedbugs.

Baby bedbugs, otherwise known as nymphs.

Not in the bed, but on the back of the pants I had worn that day, and on the outside of my roller bag. (Yes, I was hauling one of those in addition to the backpack of bricks.) Five of them in total.

Thus Lyon became the city where I spent the night dismembering and carefully inspecting every item in my possession in search of more bedbugs, before a couple of hours of very low quality sleep.

I found no more evidence, so I hypothesized–or at least hoped–that they had hitched a ride on the last train I took that day and hadn’t made it inside my stuff. Fortunately I had several ziplock bags with me, and stashed what I was wearing in them to deal with later.

Friday, July 7: Lyon became the city which made me cry for the third and final time this journey. Or rather, the mean man at the Paul bakery/deli counter in the train station made me feel stupid enough for trying to speak French that I had a mini-meltdown in the the waiting area.

That was enough of Lyon for me.  It was a relief to board another TGV headed on to Milan. Although I was unable to find my reserved seat on that train, at least I found no more bedbugs, and no one kicked me out of the alternate seat I took.

Next stop, Milan …

Yesterday (or was it last night? isn’t it now morning?) I returned from a 10ish-day journey in France and Italy: Paris, Giverny, stopover in Lyon, Milan, Venice.

For a transportation planner, it was an exercise in logistics that worked out well on paper and worked in a geekily thrilling variety of public transit experiences.

For a human with an aging body in need of more than fleeting moments of restorative stillness, it was an ordeal.

For a dreamer in love with beautiful old buildings, cobblestones, flowering gardens, winding passageways, lyrical languages, and 19th century ballets featuring enchanted ladies in white, the journey was overflowing with delight.

The Paris part of the trip

Sunday, July 2: Boarded a plane in Seattle. Sleep did not happen during the 10.5 hour flight.

Monday, July 3: Disembarked at Charles de Gaulle airport. Waited two hours in the border police immigration control queue, served by a single station (surrounded by closed stations) that was itself closed for 20 minutes. What was this, border patrol strike day?  (Note to self: accept that parting bottle of water offered on the plane because there will be no fountain nor cafe nor vending machine to procure a beverage until after passport stampation.)

RoissyBus to the Opera Garnier. Slow hot walk to the Hotel 3 Poussins (near the Saint Georges Metro). Lunch at a small Himalayan restaurant nearby (momos!) until check-in time. I had booked this particular room for the view from the terrace and was not disappointed.

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Can you spot the opera house?

First outing: a quick visit to the Musée de l’Orangerie to revisit Monet’s nymphées.

First ice cream: a gelato from a cart near the Pont des Arts, staffed by a friendly young woman who took great pride in sculpting the gelato she served. I should have photographed the lovely flower of ice cream she created. This sustained me for the walk to dinner.

Determined this time not to subsist entirely on food in boxes from the Monoprix, I had reserved a table at a fancy Italian vegetarian restaurant called Sense Eat, near the Mabillon Metro station. The food was exquisitely prepared and served, though not aligned with my flavor preferences, except for dessert.

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second gelato of the trip

So I put down two gelati on the very first day, and successfully stayed awake until sunset. This felt like an achievement.

bon soir, Paris

bonne nuit, Paris

Tuesday, July 4: I explored the Gare Saint-Lazarre to get my bearings for upcoming train travel, the kindness of a Parisian lady on the street directing me to the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Musée du Luxembourg (Pissarro exhibit), Monoprix (mais oui, as there would be no time for a real dinner tonight), and the ballet La Sylphide at the Palais Garnier. Seeing this ballet in this theater was a dream. I sat very close to the stage, in a box on the extreme side, so didn’t get to see all the specially flying effects, but still.

 

 

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Hugo Marchand and the sylphs bask in the applause

Back at the Trois Poussins, I enjoyed some wine with the Eiffel Tower before a good night’s sleep.

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That’s the moon in the upper left corner.

To be continued…