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My London Top Ten

By April 18, 2019 Travel

Earlier this week, I flew back into Toronto after a whirlwind adventure overseas. Part 1 Paris. Part 2 London. All Parts Deliciously Fun. Except for opening my phone upon arrival home to see the news about Notre Dame on fire. Why does the world care? Because we are all tumbling into a digital black hole of platform existence only. Clinging to artifacts and icons helps remind us we were here once. London is full of those reminders.
Here’s some of the wonders.

Tube Envy. As a Torontonian stuck with a 1970’s transit system, I cannot say I exactly enjoyed zipping about London’s uber-efficient Underground, otherwise known as the Tube —after all, like any busy metropolis, it was often crowded with passengers chomping on full dinners. Then there’s that recent Transport for London study indicating the network’s nasty pollution problem. Many of the Tube lines run far deeper underground than other famed systems in Paris, Berlin or NYC, as I discovered in one of many Dumb Tourist Moves: walking down a very deep winding (and claustrophobic) staircase we later learned was only for emergencies—but that I was impressed as hell is a fairly sufficient snapshot. How can I not be? The sheer breadth of the grid and efficiency of moving millions of users made me green. This alone is what stalls Toronto from being anything close to world class.

Old and New Awesomeness. Time travel is very real in London. Just use the sci-fi bathroom pods at Sketch, after your afternoon tea that begins with a boater-festooned waiter offering caviar.

Take the Beefeater tour at the London Tower: our excellent Yeoman Warder told the many UK kids on Easter holiday among our group that no, “this is not Harry Potter theme park and this is not a costume. But there will be lots of talk about death, torture, and execution.” Who needs Fortnite here? Walk the Classic old Westminster Tour (try for a Tuesday and you’ll get the clever Judy as we did, winner of the London Tourist Board’s prestigious Guide of the Year) and hear about suffragists and not just stuffy history lessons, and gossip (the folks at Westminster Abbey practice for the Queen’s funeral every six months). Visit the gorgeous baroque St. Paul’s Cathedral on a site that stretches back to the year 604, and see the first permanent video art installation of any cathedral in the world. Contemporary artist Bill Viola’s Martyrs, installed in 2014, is as biblical as it is modern. Stand at the charming entrance of Liberty, founded in 1844, inhale the bevy of blooms, and then venture inside to peruse the famed silk prints and latest designer fashions, all housed in this magnificent Tudor revival building. Even if you don’t walk out with one of their signature purple bags, a walkabout this store is time travel of the best kind.

Sunday Pub Dinners and Patio Heaters. Ok, so my ancestors are all Brits, Scots, and Irishmen so shoot me if I love nothing better than a roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, despite the many other excellent dips into international cuisine. And while drinking outside in the damp gray mist that is often London’s forecast is hardly my cuppa, I couldn’t help being cheered by the crowds outside all the pubs as we walked the many neighbourhoods. The answer? Patio heaters. I need some myself to extend the seasons of my Canadian deck and bring a little pub fever home.

Proper Curation. Scratch that…Phenomenal Curation. How many times have you been inside a museum or gallery and felt like a moron as you tried to make sense of the context? Why is this piece included? Ok, put down your hands, everyone. London has an inexhaustible list of museums and galleries and there’s no way to see them all but those I did held a common strength: they were curated sensibly. Nowhere is this more evident than the Tate Modern, easily among my favourite excursions on this madcap adventure. As you enter the first room, this is what greets you: “We want your visit to be as enjoyable as possible.” Imagine that. And it continues:

Here are some ideas you can use. You don’t have to like all the art. You might see artworks that make you question what art is. It could help if you look closely and think about:

What is your first reaction to the work? Why does it make you feel or think like that? What is it made of? …Does the size of the work affect your experience of it?

One summer I took a poetry masters class with the wizard that is Ken Babstock. Among the gems I walked away with was the gap between a writer and reader: your job as a poet was to eliminate it. To extrapolate here, this too should be the job of every curator in the world. Why have public spaces devoted to stunning artifacts without making a transparent context for visitors to enjoy them? To quote the chirpy Tube announcers, mind the gap!

The Victoria and Albert Museum. A reason to move to London. Period. No, I didn’t see the new Dior exhibit there or the Mary Quant either, because the V and A’s permanent collections had me enthralled at go. Impossible to name a favourite….let’s go with this for now: Queen Victoria’s crown. Yes, I saw the Crown Jewels housed inside the London Tower, and yes, they are spectacular as is the giant Coronation punch bowl. (It’s a bit bigger than my party version). Here at the V & A, this diamond and sapphire coronet was designed by the Queen’s hubby, Prince Albert, and it’s just one of 3000 jewels on display in this remarkable museum of applied and decorative arts and design. I want to go back and see everything. I need to go back just to eat off the beautiful artful trays in the cafe; this first museum restaurant in the world. We also ventured to the V&A outpost in Bethnal Green, the Childhood Museum to check out their collection of dollhouses. Again, breathtaking in depth. (We’re a bit nutty about dollhouses around here.)

Portobello Market. No, Hugh Grant didn’t inspire our visit to Notting Hill nor did his film character’s description of his favourite part of London miss the mark. Except now, ever since that popular 1999 rom-com, it is filled with tourists. So is every other part of London: try the hordes at Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guard. ( Yes, go. There’s room for everyone on the palace grounds. It’s kinda big). Still, traipsing about the stalls of the endless stretch of the weekend market was a total kick back in time, lending me a hit of one of all time favourite authors, Charles Dickens as I tried on fabulously fatuous hats at Sara Tiara and perused crockery at Alice’s. This is playing dress-up and tea party at its very best: I bought a hat AND a teapot. It’s not the first time I became a cliché.

Speaking of all things Dickensian, how about Bloomsbury? We walked and walked and walked through many areas of London yet it was bookish Bloomsbury that grabbed me and whirled me ’round and round in a heady state. He (Charles Dickens) lived here. She (Virginia Woolf) worked here. Indeed, the literary capital of London is chock a block full of intellectual giants. I put on my fangirl hat at the Dickens museum which salutes the great author’s life as a people’s champion as much as it does his writing. And then there are all the green spaces and elegant squares. And the Bloomsbury Publishing house (Harry Potter!), the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, the University College of London, where my oldest is a student. Just walking about these leafy streets and stunning architecture will make the densest feel like a smarty-pants, if only for a magic minute. Don’t forget: I’m still the dolt who lost her 100th umbrella on the Tube.

Dancing at the JuJu’s Jazz Band Ball on Brick Lane. Theatre in London is renowned and plentiful and yes, we saw a play —All About Eve because the film is in my top ten and of course we had to see the theatrical adaptation—and lined up to meet the star (Gillian Anderson). It is okay to do this if you’re with me because we live over there, on the hill called EXTRA. But the most fun I had in two weeks overseas had to be at the JuJu’s Jazz Band Ball in Shoreditch doing the Lindy Hop (very poorly) with my guy —and also some tipsy Irish dude who thought he was being gallant asking me to dance until I said, come, meet my FAMILY who is here with me. This funky event space has weekly Brazilian and Cuban live music, and funk and soul on other nights, but come Saturday, a swing dance revolution is in full swing and you cannot escape it; total immersion. If you don’t dance, you can watch an endless parade of cuties, some with pin curls, finding one another on the dance floor. London is full of these offbeat hidden clubs and no one was keener to dig them out then my travel buddies. More on that in a moment.

The Queen’s view out her window at Buckingham. Yes, Liz has a great view. If you aren’t tired yet reading my list above, think of all the parks in London and then think of me dragging my posse and making them stop as I shrieked about yet another shrub. Hyde Park is lovely. Kensington has Peter Pan and his spirit is certainly sprinting about in the Princess Diana memorial playground. But it is the gorgeous green in front of Buckingham Palace, where I communed with the ducks and famous pelicans and took mental notes: I need that for my garden. Dreaming is free. That’s a very good thing in London.

Speaking of dreams…

My kids live there, as students/ grown adults who don’t need their Mom to pick their outfits anymore. Their time there is temporary. Maybe forever, if one of them has her dreams come true. Time spent with them is my dream come true. I adore these creatures made of wonder and laughter and homemade macaroni casseroles. They know how to capture magic and remind me that being their mother remains my best gig. I am counting the days until our next sensory overload.

First, a wee nap.

(PS Yes, honey, I didn’t forget the Fulham soccer match. A total blast sure to makeeveryone‘s top ten).

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Paris is all mise en scène.

By April 16, 2019 Headlines, Life, Travel
mise en scène at one of the booths at this year’s Paris Art Fair

Drop yourself anywhere in Paris and your immediate view is a film set lit avec plaisir for even the weariest heart. Each step forward, backward, and around a fabled corner and still the same miraculous mise en scène. How can we not stop and embrace right there in the middle of the street? Are we not directed to by this very stage? How can we not revisit those leaner frames we inhabited once? We were here decades ago when I ignored parental protests and scampered about these very streets with my Sorbonne student-boyfriend and considered (with great sobriety) never returning home. Paris does that to you.

The pastry shops do that to you. The chocolatiers are no mere extras either but take their proud place centre stage. There are hundreds and hundreds of food artisans in Paris and patience will get you a taste test in the middle of a charming square while your traveling companion (crazed wife) drags you from neighbourhood to neighbourhood for sinful samples. (Check back later this week in this space for my favourites)

Dining in this city is notorious for a few things: snippy service (I experienced nothing but gracious welcomes), beaucoup wine (who needs water?) and status as a UNESCO world intangible heritage. In 2010, the UN cultural organization singled out French gastronomy worthy of the same kind of protection as historically significant sites or natural wonders. Certainly, the foie gras ravioli I experienced at the historic Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie in Les Halles (‘tasting’ is too boring. Here we “experience” the food) was worthy of some kind of protection from overeager dining companions. As was the grilled duck and asparagus cooked for us another evening by our host; dear friends whose idea of hospitality was champagne and strawberries as evening starters to set the mood at sparkling and fluffy warm croissants with coffee and melon from their local market waiting for our sleepy morning kitchen entrances. I’m in, merci beaucoup and Ooh La La and that’s all the French I can remember until you pour me another glass.

Paris in spring means Paris and people. All of them wearing les baskets that are not the runners you are wearing right now to walk the dog.

Every kind of tourist is here along with us but the city holds these players with grace. We joined a few in a pastry class as we learned how to fold the dough encased in blocks of butter. Huge blocks of butter. Did I say yet that I love this city?

We mingled among them as we oogled the Impressionist Masters and wondered how we could go back in time (okay this was just me wondering) and warn these models in painters studios that someday their bodies would be out of fashion and tell them that’s just one way the world has lost its way.

We walked by them splayed out on lawns with their wine glasses the night we came to see the Eiffel Tower do its hourly dazzle. (Paris by night. Yup. It’s all true).

We joined them in the procession into Notre Dame, and formed a hushed collective as we stared up into the glorious soaring space. No one is tacky here: we are all immediately humbled, whatever our belief systems, for this iconic cathedral has always been a living monument, one revitalized by writer Victor Hugo.

The greatest products of architecture are less the works of individuals than of society; rather the offspring of a nation’s effort, than the inspired flash of a man in genius…

Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

That any of it would ever be gone wasn’t even a whisper. That I tried my hardest to ignore the rules about photography but failed when I saw this Joan of Arc statue…well I’m glad I did today as I look at those stunning images of flames and mourn along with the rest of the world as this spectacular mise en scène is blackened with smoke.

Paris, like my home town, has other smudges. On our first day of many walkabouts (my calves are as tight as my beltlines) we were stopped and searched and not permitted to walk along her most glamorous avenue thanks to recent rioting by the “Yellow Vest” protestors: their outcry continues as it highlights problems France has wrestled with for many years. That their protests involve violence is sure to affect Parisians and tourists alike. Parisians are not tilted by any of it. Today at least, there is solidarity and support over a landmark known around the world.

We flew to Paris en route to London. Along the way, we met up with these two, who are currently students in all things Euro, and proceeded to explore that ancient city for days on end. Check back in this space for my Best of London when I’ve recovered.

PS: Je t’aime, Mark. Je t’aime, Kazumi. Je t’aime Connor (and of course, Buddy!) Forget the boulevards, the Arc, the museums and the Art Fair. Forget the tower. Forget the artisanal wonders. You guys are the best in the city.

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Highs of 2018

By December 31, 2018 Film, Headlines, Life, Performance, Travel

Is there ever a time you can’t muster a high? When you scoff at such a list; mind blank and steeped in bleak forecasts?
Are you screaming YES?

This was a year maybe a high might be hard to find.

A year to confront aging. A unknown father rushes in moments before a school holiday concert and mouthes “sorry” to his annoyed wife. As he brushed past me (proud aunt in the front row) to take his seat down the row, I found myself breathless-he was so very very young, this tardy father. Suddenly I was seized with panic. I was that wife, when? Yesterday, wasn’t it? We were the parents with little ones in concerts we never missed. Now I’m…what? Old?
NEVER. Have you seen me do my ab exercises?  MOVE ON, NOW.

I was silly and stern and strong this year. Sad and deliriously happy. Woeful and wonderstruck both.  Age is my friend after all, even if nobody gave me Time for Christmas. Hint for Santa: I only want TIME and you can bring it without wrapping as our blue bin is full.

A funny thing happened on this adventure in adulthood: there’s always a high. We go high when they go low, says Michelle Obama.

What makes me high? (My lawyer has advised me to refrain from the truth when crossing the border). Here is the secret: stories.

Here are some stories on page, stage and screen that shone for me in 2018 and maybe a few from my own story. Read More

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The Long Now

By March 28, 2018 Art, Travel

Let’s meet in Berlin.

 You fly in from Athens and I’ll fly in from Toronto and we shall see if four days in this city of creative expressionism and tumultuous history will leave us as inspired as the thousands who come to live. Freedom, is what one transplanted Berliner told me. This is what I came for. Freedom to be whatever I want to be.

So went mom and daughter, she now grown and working in another historic city. This is our way now, these brief interludes of togetherness, and I shall learn the notes soon enough, if not the goodbyes. Travel buddies we are, with sneakers and trench coats for melancholy weather, weather that seems a good match for sombre sites like the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe: giant abstract blocks erected in 2005 covering an entire block near the Brandenburg Gate. 

These clear and present memorials are hardly hidden: my excellent free walking tour with Sandemans expressed this amply. In the Topography of Terror, erected in 2010 on the historical site of the main organs of Nazi terror between 1933 and 1945, we (and several tour groups) walked through fifteen comprehensive stations detailing the horrors of the SS. In the Jewish Museum (the largest Jewish museum in Europe) we watched in stunned silence as visitors were invited to walk noisily over ten thousand faces made of steel in the Memory Void; created by Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman in one of two buildings designed by Polish architect Daniel Libeskind(whose studio is based in Berlin)—Torontonians will recall that name from our own infamous ROM crystal.  Also at that museum, a moving exhibit (continuing to April 2019), Welcome to Jerusalem, an immersive experience using film and audio clips, art, maps and more, all highlighting the many contradictions of a sacred city.

Next door was the Berlinische Galerie.

Sleek and clever, housed in a former glass warehouse, here was one of my favourite exhibits on this visit: a permanent collection of art produced by Berlin artists from 1870 until the present. These artworks are presented in chronological order with a helpful dotted route on the floor to lead visitors into each historical period from Expressionism to Dada to Art under the Nazis…and so on.

Art spills out of every corner in this city where museum hopping could saturate any schedule: we also saw Nefertiti at the Neues, Dietrich at the Berlin Film Museum (you knew I wouldn’t miss that one), and a bevy of nudes at the Helmet Newton Foundation.

According to the German culture secretary Tim Renner, the majority of the artists featured in the 2016 Venice Biennale live in Berlin. The city resides continuously on the brink of action. The tension between policing and anarchy, uniformity and debauchery, rules and social unrest, as well as a bristling right wing intimidation is also tangible. This makes it a fertile space for activism, creativity and agency that artists record and channel into their work. Many also come to Berlin for the (still) affordable studios and space that allows them to nurture their practice.

-Sleek Magazine

Hodge podge architecture lends Berlin’s avenues a storybook sheen, but we know none of it is fiction. If museums daunt, walking throughout the city’s boroughs would offer too its own lessons. Most visitors (three million a year to this site alone) find their way to the East Side Gallery, a series of murals painted on a remnant of the Berlin wall; explosive art that make up the largest open air gallery in the world.

Walking makes us hungry. Shall we go to the market? Which market first?

Perhaps the Turkish market?

 

Or delicious Reubens at Mogg…

 

Or wine at Café Jacques…

Or twenty miraculous offerings at Ernst (once we discovered the secret door)…

 

None of it…none of this heady activity prepared us for The Long Now, the closing event of MaerzMusik Festival. Held in the magical moody setting of Kraftwerk Berlin, this wildly popular event includes concerts, performances, electronic live-acts, sound and video installations to form a study of time and space.  

 Here is what we were told going in:

“Embracing musical worlds from early Renaissance polyphony to the musical avant-garde, experimental electronics, Ambient and Noise, this fourth edition of “The Long Now” allows for sonic and bodily experiences of an exceptional kind. Visitors are welcome to spend the entire duration in the powerplant, sleep over, or come and go. Beds will be provided. The Long Now is a place for the enduring present. A space in which time itself can unfold and the sense of time can take uncharted paths. With a duration of more than 30 hours, the project invites visitors to detach from the clocked pace of the present and indulge in the chronosphere of “The Long Now”.

-Resident Advisor

Here is what we knew going out: we want to, need to, MUST go back. No, we didn’t live out our wristbands allowing us to stay until 8am—packing loomed for flights the next morning—yet stretched out on a cot beside hundreds of others of all ages, all shapes, listening, no, absorbing the strangest music—beautiful, sad, enthralling music—we locked arms and floated on this surreal pillow of possibility…this here, this long now is all we have, this place, this is Berlin. All of it pushing forward in relentless modernism…No posturing here. This surely was the absolute expression of freedom.

And this too…my cab driver en route back to the airport. My wife knits, he told me. 

What a city!

Auf Wiedersehen!

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Pie and sun= heaven

By March 27, 2018 Life, Recipes, Travel

By the time March arrives, the Canadian landscape out my writing window offers little inspiration. Bleak skies begone! Behold a bevy of bougainvillea!

Wrap me in it and set me alight on a frisky wave. A strawberry daiquiri to go? Surely you jest? I like your style, and yes, I’ll have another.

Sun, sand, salt: how I love thee! Friendly winds whipping up waves for those unfazed by losing a bathing suit in the fray…this is the stuff of winter daydreams. An invitation to join my sister on vacation in Captiva, Florida, was an easy yes for this writer.

While in this charming corner of the planet, I had occasion to taste two delicious desserts. You know already what the next part is, don’t you? Read More

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Yes. You can go back…almost

By October 25, 2017 Life, Travel

Thirty years ago I left Montreal with the kind of longing you pack away but never leave behind. It was here film became a passion, and broadcasting a career path to pursue. Here I learned life begins after midnight, or it did for those college years, where hours stretched into the horizon. Away from home, away from a city where everyone seemed to know someone in my large family— few from my high school came here out of province then— in this exotic place, I was free to dance, dally, and doze if I wanted. Check. Check. Check. We were never going to grow old, fat, or faded. I don’t remember all of it. That’s why journals were invented.

Alas, once I settled on a career in media, I knew my French, merely functional, wouldn’t get me far enough in this bilingual town. Back to Toronto I went, degree and radio demo tape in hand, and the rest you know ...

It’s helpful to forget a little. Now I have a daughter having her own love affair with this magical city. Life on campus is as charmed as ever. McGill Homecoming twinkled for a weekend of memories. Can you go back?

Read More

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An early Thanksgiving

By October 6, 2017 Life, Travel

Being chubby is okay when you’re naked in an Algonquin lake. Floating is for round people. So there, skinnies. We own this activity. Are there Olympic medals for floating? Read More

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Notes from Athens

By August 31, 2017 Life, Travel

I am here in this ancient city to oversee yet another move. It’s been a year of heaving stuff.  None of said stuff is my own. I’m still trying to figure that out. When I do, I’ll let you know.

My eldest will begin an internship here in Athens on Monday.  While she’s at it, she may just unlock the secret room to her father’s character. We all have them. His may just be in the country of his birth. There could be profound truths. Or maybe she’ll just learn how to make the most delicious snack this side of the Atlantic.

Read More

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Mango Mama

By March 23, 2017 Recipes, Travel

Screw you spring. So you want to take your time? That’s okay. I’ll make do with hot blooms*, and well…there’s always mangoes.

Living in a big city like Toronto means finding these fruits will not require a trip to the Caribbean.  Mango lovers can find a fantastic variety of this juicy stone fruit at most grocers, and they’re in season now. I found these beauties, the Palmer variety from Brazil, at Longos this week and cranked the music up. Grab your sarongs. Yeah baby. It’s a mango party.

Showing off in the Tropical Treats chapter in my food memoir is a very dangerous cake.  I usually make it with four small Ataulfo mangoes, but if you’re able to get your hands on one of the Palmer mangoes, one mango will do the trick.

You’ll need rum too. Sip it slowly as you make the easy peasy caramel that coats the bottom of the pan. Thanks Mom, for this tiny perfect copper pot: my new go-to for wee cooking matters like the caramel syrup in this recipe.

The amount of rum that actually goes into the cake is tiny and no, you can’t taste any alcohol, just a gooey rich mango-banana flavour that is (almost) as good as a trip to the beach. If you want the recipe, I’ll happily send it, along with my buzz sheet that goes out to subscribers. Sign up is easy on the top right of this site. Or order my book and you can have all the recipes to yourself.

Throwback Thursdays (colour therapy after all) in the long slow thaw are a little easier with a crisper full of the tropics!

For more mango (yes please!), try this smooth and very sexy gelato recipe or a zesty mango salad, 

Coming up soon…Coconut mango crisp. Mmmmmmmmmm…..

Can’t find mangoes? Hop down to the Shrangri-La Hotel where this incredible virgin cocktail is on the bar menu. Hong Kong Lemonade, a sheer shot of adrenaline sunshine,  is a blend of juices including ginger, yuzu,orange, cranberry, and lemonade.

 *blooms courtesy of Kindness Queen Stephanie Black, who popped into Anne’s kitchen with Junior Star Baker Chloe for this week’s edition of with love and sugar bakes. Who will be our guest next time? 

 

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Getting a jump (UP!) on Spring

By March 21, 2016 Travel

Spring cleaning is a ritual in these parts, clearing space to make room for green. Tools are easiest to find near the equator, where they get a jump on these things.

Find me some ferns to whisk away winter gray…

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some rainbow blooms to brighten any smudges…

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and swaths of sea water for dousing doldrums.

Look sharp now. Spruced up and decluttered, you’re ready for all sorts of meditative practices.

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Traveler alert: The Gros Islet Jump-Up in St. Lucia is held every Friday night year round. If it’s been awhile since you got down in the thick of it, the island of spectacular mango valleys and rainforest magic is also a very reliable source of spring cleaning know-how. All sorts of mental meanderings are possible. Rumour has it four Toronto students cleaned house by climbing to the top of the island’s iconic Piton peak.  Steep and just this side of dangerous? Phooey. There’s one way to shake your booty-from the top of the mountain.

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Did they shout IN YOUR FACE, WINTER WUSSES ? Only the tropical breeze knows the answer…

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Best spot to bury dreary thoughts: in the basket on a wire heading down to a private table on the rocks. Let the waves crash. You’re just getting started.

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(View from The Cliff at Cap Maison, home of the divine passionfruit mojito and other heady delights)

Best way to determine if all your winter pilates classes have paid off? Get this guy to judge.

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(Limbo show/fire eating entertainers at The Windjammer Landing 

Best reason to endure a long and bumpy road that gives new definition to hairpin turns, then a water taxi gliding past ginormous yachts that just might hide a Matt Damon or two? Dinner at the exotic Rainforest Hideway in Marigot Bay.

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It helps to have the Most Interesting Man in the World on your next trip. That is, find your own. This one’s all mine.

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Stop hissing, whiners. There’s other ways to get at spring. Get thee to a market and find some rhubarb.

HAPPY SPRING!!!! Time to dig out the polka dots!!!!

(yes, this is same island, same jump-up fans circa 1992)

Scan 34

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