A Weekend in Venice

This year’s winter escape was to Venice… where the cold was even more intense than Paris, but the sun shone all weekend, drowning the city in strong, diffuse light.

It was my first visit to city. One of the most striking qualities of the city is indeed its light… where the sky and lagoon meld into one, as if the city is riding on clouds, rather than sitting on the ocean.  In the view across the lagoon from the boatyard at Giudecca, the poles marking the shipping lanes slip quietly into the invisible horizon.

After the sun sank beneath the lagoon, we walked back across Venice, which had assumed the guise of some Expressionist horror film.  Emptied of tourists, small hidden squares awaited macabre intrigue involving Shylock or Donald Sutherland, and the dock of La Fenice theatre stood ready to receive phantom guests from the other side.

Somebody once wrote that Venice was the most beautiful city built by man.  Everybody should visit once, if they have the chance… by travelling in January, we missed the oppressive crowds of Carnavale and Summer, but there were still plenty of visitors, willing to part with their euros for a trip through the morning mist of the Grand Canal.

Wishing to save our money for food (and Venice provided some of the best seafood we’ve ever tasted), we contented ourselves with a short crossing by traghetto... the bare-bones gondolas that ferry passengers across the Grand Canal, charging just 50 cents a trip.

I cannot imagine that I will not be back.  For this first reconnaissance mission, we stuck to exploring the city, and travelling by vaporetto between the city’s islands. This was feast enough for us.  Next time, we might start digging into the art museums, or the churches, or the markets.

In Venice the light reached everywhere. It stabbed the heart of Palladio’s church of San Giorgio Maggiore, and glowed deep and green at night on the basin opposite St Mark’s Square.  When Thomas Mann’s composer Gustave von Aschenbach went searching for ideal beauty, it is no wonder that he found it in Venice.

Yes, we will be back.

Grazing in Switzerland

Summer holidays this year were spent in the Swiss Jura, just across the border from France.

We drove from Paris to Switzerland through some hidden corners of eastern France – like Bar-sur-Aube,

We camped by the Lac de Joux, at 1000 metres above sea level,

Where Camping Cat ruled the roost, and visited us around the campfire,

and visited the once Top Secret Fort de Pré-Giroud, built to defend Switzerland from Nazi invasion in WW2,

before climbing to the high meadows for view of Lake Geneva and the Alps…

Happy Summer, everyone!

Holidays at Home

My blogging has been sparse lately – work has been very busy, and these past few days I’ve been taking visitors around Paris to see the sights. It’s been an interesting experience becoming a tourist again – Paris is a VERY beautiful city, we’re lucky to have the chance to live here.

To all the readers and visitors here, have a wonderful, peaceful and happy Christmas, and all the best for a prosperous and fulfilling 2010.

Ferris wheel on Place de la Concorde

Christmas lights on the Champs-Elysées

Exploring other corners of Montmartre, still in the footsteps of Robert Sabatier

Ice-skating outside the Hôtel de Ville

Library of Congress on Flickr

At the Vermont state fair, Rutland, VT. September 1941

Old photos are cool. A good way to take a break from study is to browse the U.S. Library of Congress Flickr Stream . All of the photos are available without copyright restrictions.

The colour photos from the 1930s and 1940s are particularly fascinating – bringing an immediacy to an era often seen by us modern kids in black and white: women building B-17 bombers that will flatten Germany, farm scenes that seem pulled straight from the pages of a William Faulkner novel, portraits of people who seem to have a story to tell.


Irma Lee McElroy painting the wing of an aeroplane, Corpus Christi, TX. August 1942

What emotions are hidden behind the smiles of the evacuated Japanese-American ladies, deported to camps in the desert because of their race?  How long did the worker at the carbon black factory in Texas live?  Did the negro boy near Cincinnati, Ohio live long enough to vote for Obama a few weeks ago?

These are glimpses of America near the height of its industrial and military mobilisation. And yet amidst the images there is an intimacy that helps you realise how much has changed in 70 years, and how much is still the same.

Pie Town, New Mexico

At the Fair, Pie Town, NM. 1940

Notes to Self

1. Never take cellphone with camera on Nick’s stag night. (Nick gets married next weekend, bonne chance, mon vieux – that’s Nick T, not Nick H, to avoid confusion)
2. Never, ever, leave laptop switched on and connected to internet so you can post photos when you get home at 3.30am
3. Never expect anyone who reads this blog to be at all interested.
4. Or is this citizen journalism at its most raw and noble?
5. Music. Yes. Music will return in soon when I have had a sleep.