Wednesday, September 13, 2017

"The end is where we start from..."

We knew that life in Paris would bring challenges. Weighing them against the fabulousness of living here resulted in an overall positive and life-enriching experience. I love Paris. I've loved living here - still love wandering the streets and gazing at the beautiful buildings. It's an amazing city. But I want to hold onto that amazement, so it's a good time to leave. Paris is not going anywhere and I can always come back for a visit. I feel like the person who is breaking up with another and saying that I still want to be friends!

We approached life in Paris with a huge dollop of humor - sometimes it's the only way to push through the infuriating bureaucracy, the randomness of the French opening hours and the crazy people you often meet on the streets. (Though I've earned that title on occasion myself!) We still laugh when we have to put our conversation on hold as a siren in the street below our apartment drowns us out with its wail.

We got used to a lot of what Paris threw at us - the traffic noise, the night-time party revellers and even the 6am street cleaning trucks that move slowly and noisily beneath the bedroom windows. My French has even improved such that my "Bonjour" is often answered now in French. I've stopped noticing the beggars so much. Have I become inured to them or had they, like the rest of the Paris locals, left for the summer months? However, my heart still breaks for the homeless as they try to find comfort wherever they can.
Homeless people sleeping in the Metro

I want to move on with fondness still in my heart for this city and for this apartment with its beautiful parquet floor and ornate cornices; with those windows that open onto the balcony from which I often observe the world below go about their business; with my desk by those windows giving me the quintessential Paris writers perch.

All year, I've gazed at the cafe below our window, thinking, "I should go there with my laptop and drink coffee and write." Yet, I only went there a handful of times and never with my laptop, only with other people - visitors from out of town. Because the truth of the matter is, I don't like to sit alone in a cafe no matter how writerly I may look with my laptop. I need people - lots of people - in my life. I'm a social animal, and I'm Irish, so the best place for me is a place like Armagh where everyone knows everyone and social interaction does not involve military precision.

So we're going before the little irritations of Paris become whopping pearls of annoyance - like, why are there always so many escalators broken in the Metro? Why is the parcel delivery still such a mystery?  And why don't French shops use AC? Why must the bottle bank below our bedroom window be emptied at 7am on a Saturday, a mere half-hour after the drunks have finished serenading us? And then there's the signage that stops three turns short of its destination...

Before these and many other annoyances take a firm hold, I want us to move on, move home! I want my family to drop in on me and I on them. I want to spend lazy weekends hanging out with friends. I want green fields. I want damp autumn winds blowing in my hair; a surprise snowy day in winter; the excitement of that first snowdrop in spring; birdsong insomnia in the summer;  cosy points of Guinness by the fire - possible all year long in Ireland. I want to feel excited again about a sunny day and to drop everything to take full advantage of it. But most of all - I want the craic!

We're lucky that my husband can work from home. So we decided to forgo the extortionate Paris rents and go home when the 1-year lease is up on the apartment. I'll miss the cheap cheese, caviar and wine and the architecture and the "mood" of Paris...

But I'll happily exchange it for delicious cider, artisan gins, Guinness, Tayto crisps, potato-bread, black pudding - Armagh is now being dubbed as "the food heartland" and there is a lot of culture that I'd never before appreciated. And let's not forget our own stunning architecture.

For a long time now I have yearned to gaze over the mists that lie in the hollows of the fields on our soft Irish days. It took me a decade and a couple of trips around the world to realize that there is one fair county in Ireland - I'm fortunate to call it home and even more lucky to be able to answer its call to come home.

" We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time" 

- T.S. Eliot

It feels like another new beginning, as exciting as any we've undertaken abroad, but without the homesickness and heartache of missing loved ones. All things considered - I simply can't wait to go home, back to the start of something wonderful.

Byddi Lee

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Rodin and Other Museums

One is never short on museums to visit in Paris. So far, I've been to The Louvre (3 times), the d'Orsay (3 times), Museum L'Orangerie, and now the Rodin.

View of Sacre Couer from the d'Orsay

Each time, I make sure to suss out the "must see" pieces which, for the most part, leave me cold. For example, in The Louvre, the Mona Lisa was a real disappointment. I much preferred the huge painting opposite - The Wedding at Cana.

A small portion of the Wedding at Cana

Again, in the d'Orsay, while I kind of liked some of the impressionists, my favourite being Sisley and not so much the hugely popular Van Gough, it was the realism paintings that really captured me. Just look at the expression on this woman's face as she is being tied to the stake accused of witchcraft. The whole scene is so sinister, conjuring up a story in itself. Wouldn't that be an interesting exercise - flash fiction based on art?

L'Auto Da-Fe

Perhaps, I'm just trying to swim against the tide of public opinion, or maybe I'm just not susceptible to marketing, refusing to like a painting of a pot of wonkily drawn sunflowers just because I'm told I should.

I did like the famous statues in the Rodin though. Maybe I just like sculpture more, I don't know enough about art to be sure. But I do know when my heart goes "ahhh" or a piece of art makes me happy/sad/scared/curious, or makes me appreciate the work that went into it - and sometimes all of the above!

Take The Thinker - I couldn't quite get away from the idea that he would look the same sitting on a toilet - The Stinker perhaps?

And really, what is it about these artists and nudity? This sculpture is poised with a really unfortunate aspect if you want a nice shot of the mansion! Quite the view.

This guy's pretty cool. Sometimes I prefer not to read the blurb about the sculpture and make up my own story. Here's one of a grandfather saying, "I don't care how much she begs, I'm never baby sitting this wee shit again! He's only gone and ripped my best toga off me!" I call it Grumpy Daycare.

This guy is distressed.  His story is definitely a tragedy. His expression was so desolate it made me feel quite sad too.

However, I think she still saw the funny side and laughed her head off!

Seriously though, this is Gates of Hell.

Up close, it is the stuff of nightmares... be careful how long you linger here...

This is The Burgers of Calais. Apparently, they were fighting with the English (seriously, like, the English are the worst neighbours, right?)

And The Kiss, well there's a mystery. I saw this lovely bronze one...

But it wasn't until I got home and was going through the photos, that it occurred to me that not only was there no photos of the white marble version of The Kiss but that I couldn't actually recall having seen it if it was even there. Sometimes galleries burrow stuff like this. Apparently, when the Tate had it they kept it near the loos! But if I did see it, I was obviously underwhelmed by it.

However, there were plenty of pieces that made me go, "Wow!"

I loved the expression on this guys face.

And this a much more dramatic kiss. With it being small enough to fit on a table top, does it qualify as a "wee kiss"?

There was something so tender about these Lover's Hands. I could totally live with this on my mantlepiece.

I loved this one called Adam and Eve and could imagine God fashioning them from the earth like the artist had hewn them from the marble, their forms slowly emerging...

Same with this guy peeking out from the cold stone.

This was my absolute favourite - I'll take two please. (I can use them as book ends - beautiful and practical!)

Outside the Rodin, the golden crown of Les Invalides beacons.

We were too late in the day to gain admittance - maybe another time.

Byddi Lee

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Is it Apocalypse Now?

As I watched the news reports about the floods in Mumbai and Texas this week, my over-riding emotion was anger.

Thirty years ago, I began my degree in  Environmental Biology at Queen's University in Belfast.

Thirty years ago scientists were predicting that an increase in green house gases such as carbon dioxide and methane would lead to an average global temperature rise. They dubbed the phenomena "Global warming" which in hindsight was a mistake because... well scientists are not necessarily politicians. They work with the facts and disregard the "spin." As snow storms became more erratic and increasingly severe in places, the term "global warming" by people who didn't understand or who couldn't face the facts. Let's agree that the term "Global warming" is misleading to the non-scientific population - we'll call it "climate change."

I remember preparing a presentation for my studies back in the 1980's. I practised my speech in front of my parents, giving projected outcomes of the effect of a rise in greenhouse gases upon the planet in the years to come (the years which have now arrived.)

Back in the 1980's, I stood in our kitchen and tried to fluidly remember the key points without looking at the prompt cards in my hands - some of which I can still remember to this day:

  • Melting ice-caps would contribute to higher oceans posing a flooding danger for low lying coastal regions.
  • Increased global temperatures would lead to more water vapour in the atmosphere creating more violent storms (including snow storms) and hurricanes and in some regions more rainfall and flooding.
  • Higher temperatures would bring drought to other regions prone to low rainfall, devastating arable land and creating more areas of desert.
  • Droughts would give rise to an increase in forest fires.
  • Due to increased heat, infectious disease and vectors which spread disease would increase.
  • Melting ice in Greenland could flood the Atlantic with cold water that could "switch off" the Gulf stream that flows towards Ireland and plunge that region into an ice-age.
My Mum believed me. She's always been an eco warrior and employed environmentally friendly practices even before it was "mainstream," if you could call it that now - reuse, recycle etc.

My Dad, not as scientifically minded as My Mum and me, took it all with a grain of salt believing it would never happen, that humanity would pull some marvellous trick out of a giant hat somewhere and save the day, or that we'd all be long gone before it mattered. On that last point, he was sadly correct as far as he was concerned, but his attitude was my first taste of the "climate denier" - these poor people can't face the truth, they don't want to accept the collective responsibility that we the human race have to take. And yes, we are ALL responsible for this, even the goody-two-shoes non-air-travelling, vegan cyclists who've had their tubes tied so as to not inflict the planet with even more children. Okay, well maybe not them! It's kind of hard to improve upon that.

But the fact remains - the situation I described to my parents thirty odd years ago is now happening in vivid technicolour! Let's see what the climate deniers can deny now...

Glacier Calving in Spitzbergen

Melting Ice Caps - That's happening now. Here's what the World Wildlife Fund says,
"Because of ongoing and potential loss of their sea ice habitat resulting from climate change, polar bears were listed as a threatened species in the US under the Endangered Species Act in May 2008."
That was nine years ago - and it's only getting worse. According to the Washington Post,
"...the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified the rapid decline of sea ice as “the primary threat to polar bears” and said “the single most important achievement for polar bear conservation is decisive action to address Arctic warming” driven by the human emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere."
But it goes far beyond saving polar bears.

Evidence of retreating ice I've seen myself when visiting the Fox Glacier in New Zealand.

Fox Glacier, New Zealand

Then there's the more violent storms and hurricanes. These are happening everywhere, not just in the USA. In Mumbai, there has been a huge loss of life due to the floods there. Even in Ireland recently thunder and lightening storms caused severe flooding across swaths of the country.

Drought, I've experienced living in California, but this isn't the only place that has suffered drought in the last three years - South Africa, Southern Europe, Brazil, Korea. And don't be one of those eejits that say, "Oh but the rain came and the drought is over!"

Unfortunately, it's not as simple as that. The rains came, bringing flooding and landslides, and stripping the top layers of soil. Yes, California had a "super bloom" of wildflowers but this pendulum swing is not over yet...

On every continent, there have been massive forest fires.

After the fire, Ebbetts Pass, California

And even though fire is a natural cyclical phenomenon in some places, it's on a scale that is now so huge and out of whack, that entire towns are being consumed when the flames get out of control. Knysna, in South Africa, Provence, France, and even Ireland this summer, all burned, along with the usual Californian and Australian fires.

Disease seemed like a strange one considering how far we've come with disease control, but warmer temperatures allows microorganisms to proliferate. Mosquitoes with disease like malaria and zika flourish in new regions as they warm up. Ebola tends to break out after droughts and downpours and climate change is really giving that old pendulum a push.

The one the terrifies me the most is the the ice sheets melting result in the "switching off" of the Gulf stream. Hurricane Harvey moved really slowly and eventually stalled out over Texas. Some theories suggest that climate change has affected the intensity and flow of the jet streams so that Harvey was not blown through the area faster, its "stickiness" contributing to the high levels of rainfall.

Jet streams, gluf streams - our planet is all interconnected and while 30 years ago we didn't know exactly how global warming would manifest itself or even how to market it with a name that couldn't be disputed, sadly, the scientists back then were pretty on target.

Very few devastating things happen all of a sudden. Even for someone hit by a bus, one can trace back a series of events that led to that moment (e.g. distracted, stepping of the pavement without looking, then BANG!)  More often there's a slow wind up, clues ignored, warnings unheeded then the shit hits the tornado!

Bloomberg "Just to be clear, climate change itself is no longer up for debate—both in the scientific community and among national governments (with few notable exceptions). Understanding it is relatively simple. Global average temperatures are rising. There’s at least 4 percent more water vapor in the air than 70 years ago. Ice sheets are melting. Seas are swelling. These phenomena are the direct effects of warming, and humans are causing it."
As for me, I'm just saying, "Told ya!"

On a "brighter" note, if a couple of the aforementioned "notable exceptions" continue to butt heads and fart about with red buttons, we'll be all up in smoke and global warming won't matter to us!

Byddi Lee

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Please Sir, can I have some Mullaghmore?

When our good friends invited us to come stay at their holiday spot in beautiful Mullaghmore, Co. Sligo, we didn't have to be asked twice. Good company and a great location, not to mention the fact that I'd never been before, added up to a resounding "yes."

As we sat chatting the first day of the trip over the first of many cuppas, I mentioned that I might want to do a blog post on the trip and would that be okay.

"No bothers," they said.

When I told them that I didn't have to use their real names and that they could think up a pseudo-name, their nest-leaving-age son piped up, "Basil and Sybil!"

Yep, I saw it right away - and with a hearty laugh so did they! (Phew - might have been a tense weekend otherwise!)  So that's what we agreed on.

Basil and Sybil suggested we start with a wee walk around the coast road. It was a beautiful evening, all the more appreciated when we saw that the weather in the rest of the country was brutal (that's quite a technical Irish meteorological term that would take too long to explain in this blog post!) Luckily, I'd promised Sybil I'd bring the sunshine and I did.

Off in the distance, we could see the silhouette of a castle on the horizon. With notes of Wuthering Heights, it looked foreboding and unwelcoming. My instincts proved right when we met a couple of tourists who asked in broken English if it was possible to "Go into the castle?"

"No," Basil said. "It's private."

So it wasn't exactly Faulty Towers then and as the tourists moved on, Basil explained that it was Classiebawn Castle and used to belong to the Mountbattens, relatives of the British Royal family. Like most of Ireland, the area was steeped in violent history from both the distant and recent past. On our walk, we passed memorials to the people whose lands had been taken from them by the British and to Mountbatten, who'd been killed when the IRA blew up his yacht off the coast of Mullaghmore. The irony of the two memorials in such close proximity was not lost on us and served to remind me that in order to move forward, we must exercise diplomacy and respect while remembering that all the episodes of the past have led to making the kaleidoscope of where we have arrived to as a nation today.

With rainbows arching from the heavens, it felt like God's own country. Why had we ever left, I wondered. It's so beautiful. Sure, Ireland gets more than its fair share of rain, but that's what keeps it green and lush. After living through years of drought in California, I've learned not to complain about the rain.

Glencar Waterfall, mentioned by WB Yeats in his poem ‘The Stolen

We were in Yeats country, and you could see what had inspired the great poet so much.  There was Benbulben forming the back drop to most views, the ocean clear and sparkling, and best of all the craic, as only the Irish can deliver.

Since Armagh was playing in the Ulster finals that day, Basil, Sybil and I decided it was a good day to introduce My Husband to the glorious torture of becoming an Armagh supported. The game was indeed painful - least said, the better. But Basil made a great choice with the bar where we watched it, not least because it had no Tyrone supporters - no-one to rub salt in our wounds.

At the front of Langs bar, there's an old-time shop - I wasn't sure if I could really have bought a box of Ariel or if they were for show. I couldn't help but go take a few photos while everyone was in the back lounge roaring at the match on the telly.

The bar was empty but for one man sitting enjoying his pint in peace - at least until I came along. He told me he was 75 years old and pointed to a snug at the end of the bar.

When he was sixteen years old he'd bring deliveries to this shop, he told me with pride. The door to the snug would be closed and the money would be counted out and paid over for the goods. The wee desk was still there after sixty years.

"Nothing has changed much in this bar," he said pointing at the counter. "Still the same wooden counter all these years."  He took a swig of his Guinness, rolled it around his mouth and swallowed, sucking his lips open in a satisfying smack.

Maybe it's true, the more things change, the more things stay the same. I just hope we've figured out what to change and what to keep.

One thing is for sure, I've learned what's worth keeping.

Many thanks to Basil and Sybil (every time I write those names it makes me chuckle) but seriously (hard to be serious when the thought of you guys makes me grin from ear to ear) thanks for sharing your holiday home, the company of your wonderful sons' and their friends, the weekend and your long, long time friendship which, like a beam of light in a lighthouse beacon, joins with others to guide us home time and time again.

"And say my glory was I had such friends."
William Butler Yeats

Byddi Lee