Thursday, September 26, 2013

My Work'ation: Part Four - A Love Affair With Light and Colour

 ...continued from My Work'ation: Part Three - A Long and Luxurious Bath in French Culture

It has been established that Paris is a great city whose downfalls are greatly outweighed by it's positive points.  There is something, however, that really makes Paris amazing and guarantees a return visit by me.  Paris holds in its grasp the art of the Impressionists and, more specifically, Monet. 

Monet's art is something I was introduced to a long time ago, but I had no idea the effect that he would have on me in the future.  I always knew that I enjoyed paintings.  I can't remember the first time I noticed the actual beauty that exists in paintings nor the feelings that looking at something beautiful on canvas gave me, but, for a long time I had an affinity for certain paintings that I came across in books, on the internet, and via other media.  I didn't know why and I really had no interest in figuring it out.  I just always knew that certain artists, especially one named Claude Monet, had painted some pieces that I really liked to look at.  Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir were also two cool painters whose works had a tendency to cause me to pause when flipping through pages and websites.  I had no idea that all of these guys were members of the "French Impressionist Era" club.
our trusty tour bikes

Considering my un-investigated enjoyment of Monet's art, it made sense that, when I came across a tour by Fat Tire Bikes involving a train ride to the French countryside plus bike riding, plus a visit to Monet's garden, I would feel the pull to sign up for it right away.  It was great idea; a taste of a cool painter, whose works I always enjoyed viewing, along with two of my favourite things in life, countryside and biking.  Little did I know that this tour would be a catalyst to an entirely new experience for me.  One that involved a fair chunk of learning and a whole lot of falling in love with art.

water lilies at Monet's garden
The tour was hosted by a guy named Kit who would probably have caused me to completely abandon my interest in biology and turn into an art history nerd if he had been my junior high arts teacher.  I hung on his every word and was even compelled to write some of what he said down, simply because I didn't want to forget his best "quotables."  One thing that hit home for me was his observation that, "we respond emotionally to light."  For any of you who've taken high school physics (and actually payed attention) you know that all colours are a reflection of various wavelengths of light.  It turns out that the colours, the light, that the Impressionists used in many of their paintings, especially Monet's landscapes, are colours that reflect wavelengths that emotionally resonate with me.  I learned a lot about art and the Impressionists and Monet from Kit.  Too much to go into detail here.  What is most important about my time on Kit's tour was that I became armed with a knowledge about art and Monet that would point me in a direction to enjoy paintings in a way that I knew other people experienced but I, personally, had never accessed before.

Blue Water Lilies by Monet at Musee D'Orsay
Soon after the tour I headed to the Musee L'Orangerie where eight (out of approximately 250) of Monet's paintings from "Series des Nympheas" (a series of paintings featuring the water lilies in his garden) are located.  Keep in mind that I was armed with knowledge of Monet's past, his career, and had just seen his beautiful garden in person.  The eight paintings portray his pond and water lilies from various perspectives and elements of light.  These are BIG paintings, approximately 18 feet long and 6 feet tall (totally my own estimates...nothing factual here) and they surround you in two oval shaped rooms, four paintings per room.

As soon as I stepped into the first room I felt at home.  The colours of Monet's paintings are the colours of happiness for me.  While simply standing in front of "Reflets verts" I felt myself slip into a zone of peace that I've only ever felt during deep meditation.  And this was in a room filled with people chattering away about the effects of the brush strokes and the thickness and layers of paint that Monet used.  Needless to say, Monet had an effect on me.  When I wasn't completely mesmerized I spent my time stepping closer to Monet's paintings to see the splotches of paint and colour placed in ways that appeared so random.  Then I would step back and watch as those splatterings of colour transform into an actual image; a beautiful image of water, trees, flowers, and light.

water lily pond green harmony by Monet at Musee D'Orsay
The art experience was not yet over.  I still had Musee D'Orsay to visit where I could experience more of Monet and was able to check out all of his Impressionist friends' work.  I happily ventured up to the corner gallery on the fifth floor of the museum.  It was here that I saw Monet's "water lily pond" and had the most amazing  feelings of joy well up inside of me that I found myself holding back tears.  Art, apparently, had become an intense experience for me.  It gave me a rush that I never had before and I was addicted.  I stood for ages in front of one painting after another not noticing my growling belly nor my sore and tired feet.  I was completely captivated.  I was on a high floating from one painting to the next.

It's amazing to be able to walk amongst paintings knowing that the people I had learned about from Kit (as well as from a book about the Impressionists that I bought while at Monet's garden) had actually touched these pieces.  It was THEIR brush strokes on THAT canvas.  It was THEIR minds that decided to put THIS line here and use THAT angle there.  These paintings were reflections of how the artists perceived their own worlds; reflections of the scene that was directly before their very eyes at a point in time in history.  So, essentially, I was entering the world that they were living in when they created that painting.  Not only was I seeing pieces of their worlds, I knew a bit of what had been happening in their lives during the period in which they were painting them.  I understood the significance of why they used such dark colours for the background, or the reason there was a dog in the corner of a painting, or why their model was posed in such a way.

the bridge at Monet's water lily pond

This is what experiencing art is all about.  To lose myself in a painting and then step back and let my mind wander into the world of the artist and imagine what it may have been like to brush his or her paint onto the canvas one loving stroke at a time.  This, for me, is Paris. The Impressionists.  The art.  The rush.  The high.  I will definitely be going back to see it and feel it again.

astride my awesome Fat Tire Tours bike

In Joy,

Friday, September 20, 2013

My Work'ation: Part Three - A Long and Luxurious Bath in French Culture

...continued from My Work'ation: Part Two - These Are My Favourite London'y Things

I will confess that, even with good friends in Riyadh who are from France, the French intimidate me.  That, plus having begrudgingly left the robust happiness of London and my British friends who had spoiled me, created apprehension about being in Paris.  As much as I hate to admit it, I wasn't doing a very good job of even giving Paris a chance to woo me when I first arrived.

Musee D'Orsay
I do have a miniscule justification for this (okay, absolutely tiny almost non-existent justification).  Anyone who's been in Paris, even my French friends themselves, will admit that there's a coolness to the city.  Parisians flow on a river of non-chalance.  Nothing seems to be impressive to them.  They appreciate life and all it has to offer, but don't feel the need to get excited about it.  Something could happen that would make me want to jump up and down with glee, clapping my hands and giggling like a little girl; a Parisian would react by simply saying, "That's good," with slightly raised eyebrows and one nod of his head.  Sometimes I think that all those cigarettes they smoke are laced with a strange version of marijuana that makes them exist in perpetual chilled out aloofness.

Inside the Louvre
This is not a bad thing.  It can be a little unnerving, especially for me considering that I resonate with people who exude warmth.  To be around a culture that is more reserved with their warmth causes me to have a hard time relating.  When I can't get a "read" on people I have a tendency to avoid them.  Well, that and the language barrier doesn't help either.
At the gardens of Chateau de Versailles
I wondered how I was going to handle this challenge.  I was concerned that it would hamper my ability to find the appeal of Paris.  Turns out that it put me in a perfect position to be motivated to take advantage of tours.  So, off I went on adventures to Notre Dame, the Louvre, Musee D'Orsay, Musee L'Orangerie, and Jardin des Tuileries.  I roamed around the city on a tour bus.  I visited Chateau de Versailles.  I even traveled to Monet's garden in Giverny.  I learned so much French history and took in so much art during my weekends in France that I might as well have been adopted by Paris.  I was ready to buy a beret and start smoking.  The only thing stopping me was my inability to speak French...oh, and the warm versus cool personality factor.  Not sure if I could master a cool demeanor.

LaDuree - French Pastry makers extraordinaire
While I was definitely getting familiar with Paris' past, I still felt uncomfortable with it's people.  Okay, so maybe not all of it's people.  To be honest, 85% of the Parisians that I encountered were actually quite friendly.  The restaurant waiters make up the other 15%.  That did not prevent me from eating, however, and what I ate was bread.  Those of you who know me well know that I don't eat a lot of bread.  In fact, I tend to not eat it at all.  With all the hype about Paris' bread I had to at least try it.  Oh, excuse me a moment............. ah, okay, that's better.  Sorry, I had to pause and grab a napkin to wipe the drool off of my chin.  French bread is AMAZING!  Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.  My favourite part of the day was to sip a cappuccino while eating pain au chocolate.  My second favourite part of the day was to sip a cappuccino while eating a croissant.  My third favourite part of the day was to sip a glass of wine while eating a french baguette smothered in creamy butter.  Of all the adjectives that are within this brain of mine, I could not begin to properly describe the deliciousness of the bread in France.  I don't ever want to eat bread anywhere else but in France for fear it may hamper my ability to remember my experience with French bread.
Denise, Scott, and I enjoying wine at the Eiffel Tower
The eating factor in Paris did not happen alone, luckily for me.  Even so far away from a population of people that I'm comfortable with, I still managed to connect, with old classmates in fact.  It still amazes me to think of the serendipity that placed me in Paris on the very weekend that my friends, Scott and Denise, were visiting on their anniversary.  It was such a strange and amazing feeling to be sitting at a restaurant, in Paris, chatting about the fun parties we had back in Halifax and the "goings-on" of all our old mutual classmates.  I felt like a piece of my history - the person I was before becoming the person I am - was sitting there with me while Scott, Denise, and I updated each other on our lives.  And then, when Scott suggested we buy a bottle of wine and drink it, picnic style, on the lawns in front of the Eiffel tower I realized that I couldn't have asked for a better night in Paris.  Top it off with seeing the tower's light show at midnight and it was yet again confirmed that I have an amazingly fantastic life.

Daniel and Chelsea enjoying pear cider on the train
The friend connections did not end there, though.  Heading off to Monet's garden in Giverny I only expected a nice day of bike riding and flower smelling.  It wasn't long, however, that I realized I had some cool people surrounding me on this tour that were worth getting to know.  Daniel and Chelsea were my English-speaking saviors after a week of being surrounded by Parisian natives.  Sadly, we had a very short period that we would all be in Paris at the same time.  So, only one night of revelry at a Paris restaurant was to be spent together.  We made it a good one with far too many politically incorrect jokes and far too loud bursts of laughter, for the Parisian's taste, at least.  Meeting Chelsea and Daniel was definitely a cherry on my Euro-trip sundae and I would've loved to have had more time to get to know them better.  Alas, it was not to be and so the rest of my time in Paris was spent taking in the sites to the fullest extent, albeit alone. 

A view of Paris courtesy of Denise
It wasn't so bad to be in Paris by myself.  It really is an amazing city and it's easy to get lost in it's esthetics.  The French certainly know how to take a city and make it beautiful.  I'm not typically one who can look at something man-made and consider it stunning, but Paris definitely came close.  Just standing on one of the many bridges crossing the Seine I would get a feeling of openness and expansiveness and yet there are buildings all around.  The city planners back in the day knew what they were doing.  While standing in Place de la Concorde (the square where Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI were beheaded) I can look to the east and see the Jardin des Tuileries and the Louvre beyond that; I look west and I can see in the distance L'Arc de Triomphe; I look north and see two stately and identical stone buildings separated by a road that takes you to Eglise de la Madeliene, a pompous looking yet beautiful church that Napolean had built; I look south beyond the Pont de la Concorde (a bridge that crosses the Seine) and see the prominent building that houses the French National Assembly.  This is just one example of the symmetry in the city that is almost hidden until you stop to take notice.  Without even taking pause, however, you can feel the balance of it all.

L'arc de Triomphe - courtesy of Denise
Paris bridges - courtesy of Denise

It is odd for me to feel balance and calm when I'm in a city.  Typically, I can only gain a true state of peace when I'm in the forest or when I'm rocking a solid meditation session.  So, when I felt a sense of intense peace in Paris I was, essentially, blown away.  It wasn't Paris' architecture that did it for me, though.  It was the art.  But, that's a whole other story to be saved for the next blog entry.

Stay tuned for My Work'ation: Part Four - A Love Affair With Light and Colour

In Joy,

Monday, September 16, 2013

My Work'ation: Part Two - These are My Favourite London'y Things

I had been in London for five days before my weekend began.  During those five days, while traveling around the city working in parks with my little student and finding playgroups for him to attend, I was taking note of the sites that I might want to check out later.  Our driver, whom I’ll call Mr. N, was fantastic.  He called me darling every time I asked him a question.  “Okay, darling.” He would say when I asked him to drive us to a certain park.  “Yes, darling.” When I asked him if that was Queen Victoria’s statue. “The changing of the guard, darling.” When I watched, fascinated, as the Beefeaters marched towards Buckingham palace.  Mr. N. was more than happy to explain to me where I needed to go for anything I wanted to do.  So, when the weekend arrived I had my plans all set out.  Tower of London Saturday morning, St. Paul’s Cathedral Saturday afternoon, check out a London band at a nearby pub Saturday night, brunch with my old friend, Paul, on Sunday, followed by a bike tour of the city.  First thing was first, though.  It was Friday night and Bonnie wanted a beer.

St. Paul's Cathedral peeking out from a London Alleyway

I asked the doorman what pub nearby was a good one to visit.  I specified the need for some live music to give me something to do while enjoying my beer.  I wasn’t fond of the idea of looking like a lonely sap nursing a beer at the bar on a Friday night.  He pointed me in the direction of a piano bar, which wasn’t exactly what I was aiming for, but I figured that it couldn’t hurt to at least check it out.

While walking to the bar I passed by pub after pub, each one with a large group of loud and laughing Londoners milling about the front having a cigarette or, as with one gentleman in particular, urinating on the street light pole.  It was apparent that the local drinking begins directly after work hours; therefore I was four hours behind in the beverage-consuming department.

I found my target piano bar and was not disappointed.  The entertainment was talented and the crowd was happy and in a dancing mood.  I ordered my beer and leaned against the bar to watch the antics.  It was an interesting perspective as I’m usually part of the dancing and fun-having crowd.  I didn’t realize how entertaining it could be for on-lookers.  It wasn’t long, however, that a sweetly smiling guy came up to me,  stretched out his hand, and asked me to join him on the dance floor.  Off I went to become one with the London merrymakers. 

The dancer in question was named Ravi and our dancing soon turned into some great conversation.  A friendship was quickly bonded.  Unfortunately, Ravi’s carriage was turning into a pumpkin all too soon and he had to leave the revels early.  He promised to show me around London while I was in town and then was off.  It didn’t take long for me to get myself back on the dance floor, however, continuing to make new friends and insuring that my fun evening lasted early into the morning.

London Bridge
As it happened, the plans to be a true tourist in London did not turn out very well.  Since I was dragging my tired danced out ass back to the hotel only a few hours before the Tower of London tour was to begin, that idea was awash.  I did make it to a few cool historical places but I discovered that London was going to be a place of spending time with dear friends and socializing.  Yes, this may have been because my weekend socializing often meant I was waking up too late and in a state of health not conducive to touring around historical buildings for hours on end.  I think, however, that it had more to do with the fact that my heart and mind were filled with friendly connections and kindnesses that tour guides can’t quite give you.

Lichfield Cathedral in the English countryside

Afternoon tea with Emily
Something happened during the time I spent with my friends in England, both old and new.  Between my excursions to the lovely borough that Paul lives in; and a weekend jaunt to the English countryside to visit my friend, Emily, and her husband, Paul; and the post-work evening meanderings around London proper with Ravi I came to realize that London was giving me the feeling of familiarity that I get when I’m home.  I was given the opportunity to experience London, and England, as if I were a part of it and not just a visitor.  The connections with my friends allowed me to connect with London.  I no longer felt so overwhelmed by the crowds of people.  Instead, I learned where the quiet boroughs of the city were.  I also learned the benefit of the weekend escape to the country.  A little hustle and bustle in the crowds were bearable knowing that, when work was finished, I could find my happy place with Ravi by my side in the comfort of my friendship.

Yes, I fell in love with London.  I could spend three blog entries detailing each aspect of that city that makes me love it and another three to describe the beauty of the English countryside.  I will not do that but I will do something to give you a taste of what I love about England.  I transformed a familiar little “ditty” on my last day in London due to being giddy with the happiness that being in England had helped me to find again.  Please forgive me, as I was a tad sentimental. You will understand when you read on.

My Favourite London’y Things
(To the tune of The Sound Of Music's "Favourite Things")

Getting intimate with the locals
Buildings with gargoyles and gorgeous cathedrals.
Train rides and tube rides; public bikes to pedal.
Statues and monuments for all eyes to see.
They’re why London is my favourite city.

Hot men in crisp suits with great shoes and nice hair.
Parks filled with animals and bird songs floating through the air.
An accent that pulls at my fragile heart strings.
These are my favourite London’y things.

History that humbles my short existence.
Boroughs with green parks and fabulous substance.
English countryside and quaint towns so sweet.
This is why England has made me happy.

When the sandbox
Makes me crazy
I'll just get away,
By simply going online and booking a plane
To London then I’ll feel sane!

Stay tuned for "My Work'ation: Part Three - A Long and Luxurious Bath in French Culture" where I tell you about my experience with Paris...oui, oui...ooh la la!!

In Joy,

Sunday, September 15, 2013

My Work'ation: Part One - A Sad State of Mind

Any of you who've been following my blog may have noticed a significant decrease (*cough* non-existence *cough*) of blog entries during the summer months.  Well, to explain, I've been far away from my writing head-space and eye-ball deep in traveling.  A little for myself, and a lot with work.

I would go into the details of my vacation home to my beloved British Columbia, but this blog is about my adventures in Saudi Arabia.  Plus, many of you already know the ins and outs of the fabulous'ness that is British Columbia so you don't need my descriptions of it.  I suppose this logic kind of negates the writing of my travels while working with the sweet little boy that is my student, since I was not in Saudi Arabia per say.  I was, however, traveling as a result of the reason I'm living in Saudi Arabia,  so there is my Arabian connection and now writing about my time in London and Paris has been justified.

The awesomeness I left back home.
Getting ready for five weeks in Europe was interesting.  I'm not talking about packing for the trip, I'm talking about my state of mind.  I had traveled for 24 hours and skipped over ten time zones only to be back in Riyadh for seven days before flying to London with the family I work for.  On top of that, my supervisor was in Riyadh for our scheduled "individualized education plan" review, updates, and consulting that equated a week of 12 hour days.  I was running on fumes.  This would've been fine, but remember that I had just left my world of mountains and forests and biking and the most fantastic group of fun and caring friends imaginable.  I had experienced the greatest actualization of love that is my home and I was required to leave it.  I was desperately sad and my exhaustion was driving me into a hole of despair.  Suffice it to say, looking back, I do believe I was in a mild state of depression.

I most certainly was not able to look forward to traveling.  I wasn't looking forward to anything, really.  I was also hard on myself for being like this because, ever since I was little, I had dreamed of visiting England.  Jane Austen is one of my favourite authors. Shakespeare delighted me during high school. I have watched almost every British romantic comedy filmed from 1995 and onwards at least twice and maybe half of the British dramas.  I won't even get in to the amount of British television that I've watched.  I actually used to read my study notes in a British accent when preparing for tests and exams because it made me feel smarter.  Now I was finally visiting London, and would have weekends off to enjoy it, and I couldn't have cared less.

What was contained in my lost luggage.
We arrived in London and, while I could definitely appreciate that it was cool to be there, I noticed my tendency to highlight more of the negative things about the city than the positive things.  This was not good.  This was not me.  I am a happy person, yet hopelessness and sadness were starting to feel like the norm for me.  And then a saving grace in the form of a bad situation occurred.  My luggage had been lost.  I had no clothes besides what I was wearing and no toiletries whatsoever.  All I had with me was my computer and, thankfully, my work notes and therapy plans.  My luggage was predicted to make it to me in four days.  Shit, shitty, shit.

This, for me, was a wake up call.  For a long time I have believed that shit-storms in life are not a result of the world coming down on you.  Instead, they are a result of your own negative attitudes and energy coming back to bite you in the ass.  That's what my luggage getting lost was; the universe telling me to start thinking more positively or more crappy situations were going to be paying me a visit.

Let's be honest here.  How horrible was my situation anyway?  Losing my luggage was really not that big of a deal.  I was staying in a luxury hotel just down the road from Trafalgar Square, two blocks away from Westminster Abbey, and a ten minute walk away from Buckingham Palace.  AND I was getting paid to be there.  My life was (and is) flipping amazing and I was whining because I had to spend another six months away from home.  I felt the need to walk outside and ask the hotel's doorman to give me a swift and severely hard kick in the ass.

I didn't think the doorman would have actually gone through with it so, instead, I started to ignore the negative thoughts that floated into my brain.  I began to take pause and remind myself of all the goodness that is part of my life and the world around me.  Most importantly, I started to see the awesomeness that is London.  Then my first weekend off arrived.

I'll tell you all about London in Part Two - These Are My Favourite London'y Things.  Until then...

In Joy,