The honeymoon

Well, golly. Happy New Year, everyone! 2016 is starting out kind of rough, what with all the icons dying. Yeesh.

But our trip was Great. I mean, c’mon, it’s Paris! The baguette and wine alone is worth the airfare. ;)

Champs Elysees

First night, Champs Élysées

However, there was a Christmas festival on along the Champs Élysées that meant that we were almost always walking through a party. We tried roasted chestnuts (smelled wonderful, tasted surprisingly mildly sweet and were squishy, not crunchy), had glühwein pretty much every day, and had street crepes, of course. Nutella et banane, let’s not mess about here.

Eros and Psyche

Psyché ranimée par le baiser de l’Amour par Antonio CANOVA (1757-1822). Commandé par le colonel John Campbell en 1787. Acquis en 1801 par Joachim Murat.

We went to the Louvre and saw the Mona Lisa, lots of paintings of Mary, Jesus, Joseph, Saint Sebastian, still life paintings that were a testament to the craft of these artists… I showed my husband the Delacroix canvases and he was suitably impressed by their castle sized dimensions. We saw sculptures of breath-taking beauty (such as my favourite one, above – Psyche being revived by the kiss of Eros by Antonio Canova).

We got up early one morning (not difficult with the jet lag) and walked down to Notre Dame, which was beautifully quiet. We were asked directions by another tourist, which was very flattering. We also ran to Shakespeare and Company and browsed the wonderful books. We visited the Musée Rodin where I realized that a sculptor’s version of rough notes and preparatory sketches are small rough sculptures in clay. By the end of that day’s wandering, however, we had murdered our feet.

The Gates of Hell by Rodin

The Gates of Hell by Rodin (also known as our shoes)

We went to Sunday mass at Sacre Coeur, which wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. Other tourists were quite oblivious to the actual real mass going on while they strolled through, and actually had the temerity to try to (and sometimes succeed) take pictures of the proceedings and generally ignore all the rules and requests of the working church (be quiet, no pictures, no hats). The main reason I wanted to go was to show my husband how lovely the music was – the nuns making up the choir must have to go through auditions before they’re permitted to sing. They were all very talented. Sadly, the pipe organist wasn’t to my taste this time. It sounded like they were attempting to improvise some acid jazz with those hymns. Didn’t quite make it. After lunch in Montmartre of a delectable savoury crepe and more glühwein, we hopped on the metro to Cimitière du Père Lachaise, where we got weirded out by being tourists in an active cemetery.

Oscar Wilde's tombstone

Oscar Wilde’s half protected tombstone – now with 75% less lipstick graffiti, and 100% more jerkfaces standing on someone else’s tomb to liplock the stone.

The meals we had were almost always delicious. There were a couple of cafes that were just alright, but we still had wine, coffee and bread and it was Paris. We found that staff were, with perhaps one exception, really happy to have customers. (The one exception being a fellow in the Cafes de Deux Moulins in Montmartre, who got a talking-to by the shift supervisor to pull up his socks after he almost lost a few customers by not seating them away from the door – he was also flabbergasted when I ordered a second round of café allongées.) Our favourite restaurants were Chez Clément, L’Arc Cafe, L’Étoile 1903 and the little cafe in Montmartre where we got our crepes and glühwein after church on Sunday, I think.

café allongée et croissant

But the first one was so good…

There were some human stories happening while we were there, like the beggars on the metro. One middle-aged gentleman would enter the train car, do his speech (name, age, children, no prospects, relying on the generosity of strangers, sorry for disturbing you) and move on to the next. Another was a dirty, barefoot women carrying a “baby” in a snowsuit like it was breastfeeding (it was a doll), and harshly crying out “Mesdams! Mesdamoiselles! Un pièce, s’il vous plaît!” Until she got distracted scratching and picking things out of her hair – eck eck eck. My husband later recognized her sitting on the street in the Latin Quarter begging, sans baby doll. There was a woman kneeling prostrate holding a ratty take away coffee cup along the Champs Élysées, wrapped in her head scarf, dress and a housecoat. Another – father, mother and daughter sitting with a hand written cardboard sign advertising that they were a Syrian family in need.

There was extra security at museums and the churches. We had to open our jackets, show them our belts, open my purse. At the Louvre, we had to go through a metal detector and run my purse through an x-ray machine. There were squads of soldiers in green camouflage marching through the city, with their tastefully coordinated black berets, black belts, black boots and black automatic rifles. Although I thought it was a faux pas to be in green when clearly the situation called for inner city grey. And four motorcycle police officers were on high alert on the Champs Élysées as four tourist girls straddled their motorcycles, taking pictures.

A woman tried to pickpocket me in the Christmas festival area, apologizing when I spun around to look her right in the eye after she tugged on my purse zipper.

After a moment of realization that the Musée de l’Armée in Paris would have knights’ armour and swords and awesome stuff like that, we went and spent a really cool time there. That was my husband’s suggestion. It was awesome to see these ornately crafted weapons and armour that actually had been used. The artisans who made these things were really talented.

We went to the Eiffel Tower two or three times, attempting to go up to see Paris from a height, but the line ups with the extra security were ridiculously long, so we opted for more glühwein, crepes and cafes and strolling along the Seine.

The Eiffel Tower

So after a week in Paris – walking, experiencing, drinking glühwein, eating baguette… we started our trek home. We took advantage of IcelandAir’s deal to do a free stopover in Iceland on your way somewhere, and we flew out of Paris on December 30th to spend New Year’s Eve in one of our favourite places.

10am

This is 10am on December 31st in Reykjavik, Iceland

We went to K-Bar for dinner on December 30th, and then visited with my Icelandic colleague for drinks afterwards and chatted pretty late into the night. On December 31st, we took the bus out to the Blue Lagoon Spa in the afternoon for a relaxing dip in the geothermal water and a “free drink” (included with the cost of our admission) at the swim up bar. We got our Gull beer and found a water outlet to poach in and enjoyed floating, relaxing… And then being hit in the face by ice pellets the size of ball bearings… It was fun.

Our New Year’s Eve dinner reservations were at Laekjarbrekka and the meal was wonderful. My husband enjoyed his slow cooked lamb, and I enjoyed my Arctic char. Then we walked towards where one of the bonfires was supposed to be lit and listened as the fireworks were going off all over the city. Iceland lifts the regular fireworks ban on New Year’s Eve, and Iceland Search and Rescue sells fireworks to everyday people so that they can celebrate, and Iceland Search and Rescue raises money for their work. Since the sun went down at 3:20pm that day, we rolled back into Reykjavik in the dark at 5:00pm, and seeing the occasional firework going off. We didn’t find the park where the bonfire was supposed to be, but we made our way back to the hotel so that I could warm up before the big show. We headed up to the top of the hill and Hallgrímskirkja around 11pm, and met up with a crowd of varying drunkenness as we all went to experience the spectacle.

The fireworks were, well, exhilarating. We were standing right underneath them. This video was taken by someone else (because I’m apparently terrible at taking iPhone video) but we were standing in front of the church in the video (which considering the couple of videos I’ve found uploaded to Youtube which were taken from behind the church makes me think…). I had orange ashes in the hood of my hoodie, and I was being hit with spent fireworks capsules. This is probably why other places don’t allow this sort of thing. But it was such a rush to be whooping and cheering with other people in the crowd as the people setting off fireworks sent wave after wave of explosives into the air. It was a very democratic celebration, and we stood there for over an hour marvelling that the explosions kept coming. Someone started a countdown – I’m not sure it was accurate, but we all joined in and screamed in the new year, kissing under the sizzling shrieking lights. The party didn’t stop then, people didn’t then say, “Well, alright, New Year’s here, off to bed!” Nope. The fireworks kept on going until well after 2am. However, we were dressed for Paris 10C, not Iceland snow and -4C, so I got cold again and we started walking back to the hotel by about 12:30 and probably got in around 1am. We snuggled down into our hotel bed, to warm up, and we didn’t go to sleep until after 2am.

We flew back on January 1st, which was why we were really good on New Year’s Eve – started this year out without a hangover! Yes! Getting through the Toronto Airport was stressful, but because our flight was late leaving, we did make it back to Ottawa and got to sleep in our own beds.

It was a lovely trip, and we’re definitely going back to Iceland to do our hikes. And we’re likely going back to Paris, if only to get in another few days at the Louvre, drink more great wine, eat more great bread, and maybe go see some of the countryside. There’s an entire country around Paris, I understand. :)

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The trail less travelled

We restarted our meeting punctually and slogged through the initial part very slowly. We hadn’t made much headway through our document before we stopped for a quick coffee break. We had a lot of work to do and we were all worried that the little outing we were planning after our quick lunch might eat into our productive time.

However we motivated ourselves and got through more of the agenda and our document before lunch. But still, the rest of the document seemed insurmountable and I considered staying back from our walk to help push our work forward. We had realized that many of us were supposed to miss the last scheduled hours of work this morning, because we all had flights to the rest of the world. So we really needed to finish our work by 7:30pm, since that was when our fancier group dinner had been arranged.

But even our co-chairs decided to go for the walk so I joined them. I walked with the forward, faster group, since my colleague and I had explored this route the day before.

  
And we kept following the path along the river. It was a gorgeous day, and we all were wondering at the great warm weather. I found a neat beetle on the path, if they needed any more evidence that I was (am?) a field biologist.

  
He has purple feet!

And then I found a little juvenile frog, who looked like a wood frog to me.

  
I had to zoom in to the maximum to get a halfway decent picture because he was so tiny and he kept running away from the crazy lady on the ground making weird happy sounds at him.

Then we were at our destination – a replica of the Nydam boat. One of the local group members told us about the discovery, all the broken weapons inside the boat, and their theory about why. Apparently the Nydam holy lake contained 5 captures warships, sunk into the lake as an offering to Odin, and the broken collected weapons from those 5 warships as well.

  
The ship in the shelter – they were re-sealing the floor wih tar. It smelled very piney.

  
Inside the boat – there was room enough for 30 oarsmen and 20 additional warriors. They usually fill the bottom of the boat with about 2 tonnes of rocks for ballast but they don’t know if the Angles (it was an Angle/German warship) would have done that. But otherwise the ship isn’t super stable.

  
The interpreter said that they had looked everywhere to find an appropriate tree for the keel beam – it had to be very large and an oak. They finally found one in the forest  nearby the lake and they were able to convince the landowner/farmer to allow them to harvest it for the boat rebuilding.

Because of the local history, the Nydam boat is in a German museum to the south, since they had been a part of Germany for about 60 years. So the landowner/farmer was quite happy to contribute to the rebuilding of their boat. The local group is also continuing to archaeologically excavate the holy lake site (now a field because the lake was filled with detritus over the years).

We headed back to our meeting and were very productive for the rest of the day. I credit the fresh air. We even finished earlier than we anticipated. Then we had some time before our fancy dinner.

  
The dining room of  the manor house.

  
The sitting room we had found in our explorations the night before.

  
The library with many Danish books.

It was a lovely meal and a good time to connect with different colleagues.

Now I’m on my way back to North America. I’ll blog about that tomorrow. :)

  
Danish outlets look so happy/cute.

  
Roses still blooming outside of our meeting place.

Final Creative Friday

  
Alas, the day has come. This is the final day of my eight weeks of being a full time artist. To celebrate, I took myself out for a sushi lunch at my favourite sushi restaurant – a little six table, plus lunch bar place in my neighbourhood, Sushi Umi (for the record, that’s 2 pieces of hamachi and 2 pieces of sake sashimi {with a free third piece of the sake sashimi because that’s how they roll}, plus a spicy tuna roll and the Yummy roll which is filled with all sorts of deliciousness and topped with tempura tai and avocado). If you get a chance, do go there. The people are wonderful and the sushi is delicious.

I’m determined to make it past page 300 today (in a word processor – not sure how that converts to actual printed novel pages). I am in Act 4 of 5, and expect the story to flow much more easily, I think. I already have the skeleton of these next two acts sketched out.

I will definitely look to do this again in coming years. Maybe another two years from now, I’ll be in the position to be able to justify it.

The adventures continue this year. I might try to fit in NaNoWriMo this year since I had that idea for an entirely different book – more of a hard sci-fi too. Completely different from my current adventure fantasy-horror that I’m writing.

Then there is our Christmas honeymoon coming up too, heading to Paris, France for Christmas and Reykjavik, Iceland for New Year. :)
Back to working downtown on Monday. It has been worth it.

Canvas prep is messy work

  
Outside again, on my comfy blanket in the shade and the gorgeous breeze. Finished a weird chapter that will likely change significantly after editing but that is for later. Starting a new chapter to try to get them to their next destination and thought I’d give myself some time outside before my social evening #2 starts.

One week left in my eight wandering weeks. This time has flown by. I’ve gotten through almost 50 pages in my novel, written a short story that will be followed up with another, and started what I thought was a short story that is apparently another book. Plus, I finished and delivered a painting, and started a new one. Just today, I completed a doodle canvas and prepped six more smaller canvases. One will be a painting and the other five will be doodles.

I still have lots of other things I’d love to do (enumerated to my friend last night, it seemed suddenly like a tsunami of creativity). But reality does have to be acknowledged at some point. My job does still need to be done. ;)

Writing al fresco

  
Too many Things I Should Not Have To Deal With are popping up inside, so I decided to grab my stuff and a comfy blanket, and write out in the fresh air for a bit. Complete with a new jasmine white tea that I picked up this morning.

I’ve been feeling very pressured, stressed and frustrated for the past two days, and part of it is linked to work intruding into this time off. I am disappointed in this because I have taken a large pay cut, including other benefits, in order to have this time. I am not being paid right now. That is how I’ve “paid” for this time. I know it’s due to timing (particularly: bad) that this is coming up. And I know it’s out of respect that the work is even mentioned. But it’s an emotional response to it right now on my part.

I just finished reading Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking (see my Reading page) and in it she talks about the inner Fraud Police. These are the voices who taunt and torment you from your own mind, saying that what you’re doing isn’t worthy of respect and recognition, that you’re a fraud and shouldn’t expect to be able to do this creative work. That creative work is playtime and you should be Working A Job Like A Grown-Up.

Having work intrude on my creative time… Hell, having a lot of things intrude on my creative, unpaid sacrifice time, feels like the Fraud Police have become real. That the voices exist and are supported by those people who are causing the intrusions. And it makes me want to cry. I cried last night from the feelings, although I wanted to growl at them and drink whisky and tell them to fuck off. A part of it is that I have expectations of myself for these weeks and I feel like little things like errands are frittering away my time, like I’m not taking this seriously either.

Yesterday afternoon, I was slammed back into my stressed-from-work emotional eating, and I was shocked. I still have time and I’m already feeling the high blood pressure, tight chest, emotional eating stress of work that has caused me to pack on 40 lbs in the last few years.

I want to cry now as I sit in the park near my house trying to escape.

I’ll try to use the emotions to flesh out the turmoil my characters should be feeling. I don’t like crying in public.

Gritty downtown writing 

  
It’s muggy and it’s been hot for days. The sky is overcast and threatening to rain and I don’t have an umbrella. But I had to pop by work quickly to leave instructions for some work travel coming up in November that we need to get approved ASAP. So I went in. And didn’t stop to talk to anyone and said “I am not here…” to everyone who did see me.

I don’t think my Jedi mind tricks worked on them either. But I was in and out in half an hour.

But this way, I get to stop by my new favourite downtown coffee shop, Morning Owl, and enjoy their dark roast and do a bit of out-of-the-house writing. And hit my local art supply store to pick up a couple of appropriately sized canvases for upcoming projects.

Beautiful writing Friday

  
My handmade cup, full of Bengal Spice tea, and my pencil that travels with my novel notebook. The living room was my writing spot today and it was perfect and productive. Mostly.

  
A gorgeous breeze flowed through the house, keeping everything cool and summery. The air contained just the slightest hint of sunwarmed curtains, and they danced aside, allowing the outside air in.

Feeling better about my writing now, at the end of the day. There were a few moments of distraction and walking away, but the journey continues for my characters. I might even be able to put down some words this weekend.