Lady Bird: Flying Close to Home

When I was young and driven around in the backseat of my parents’ van, I would pick out different houses I wished I lived in. One was on the way to church, a green and white farmhouse big enough for my sister and I to share with our future hockey player husbands. The other was just down the street, a two-storey, brown-shingled house with large windows and a magnificent weeping willow draped over a pond. I imagined a spiral staircase inside. Growing up in a rancher that was in a perennial state of renovation and boasted one bathroom for five people, I think the novelty of different stories was fantasy enough.

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Photo courtesy of Scott Rudin Productions



The Look of Light

Before I move on to other cities from our trip, I remember I had written prior to visiting Paris that Adam Gopnik’s memoir Paris to the Moon “makes me want to pause long enough to notice the light.”


Sunrise on the morning commute

Apart from the day after we arrived when jet lag didn’t wake us until 1:30pm (!), our days were full of walking different neighbourhoods; visiting art galleries, historic sites, and monuments; eating baguettes, macarons, galettes, crêpes; ordering a café crème and deciding I DID like coffee as long as there was sugar in it; taking pictures of colourful doors and narrow streets, returning to our Airbnb exhausted in the best kind of way.


A former train station, Musée d’Orsay is filled with Impressionist paintings. Our favourite museum in Paris.

As much as I could on a first trip to Paris, I tried to pause, to really look around me, to appreciate the ordinary along with the extraordinary, the juxtaposition of old and new, sacred and secular, to follow my favourite Impressionist painters in looking for the light. Here are some of those moments.


Strolling through Luxembourg Gardens with a view of the Pantheon


Couples dance to live music in Montmartre. This scene for me captured Paris at its most romantic.


The love lock bridge is gone but that doesn’t stop people from decorating the posts of Le Post des Arts.


I could care less about the Forum shopping mall but the ceiling fascinated me.


The enchanting Notre Dame


Classic V-shaped building and wide boulevards from the Haussmann era of Paris’s city planning


This boy stopped so I could get a picture of the door but I like it better with him in it.


The light on this galette (like a crêpe but made with buckwheat flour) makes it look even more divine! One of the best things I ate.


Dinosaur meets Eiffel Tower


Backside of Basilica du Sacré-Coeur. Did you know it has a pig gargoyle?


Hotel de Sully in the fashionable Marais district


The golden hour hitting the extravagant Palais Garnier (opera house)


I have a thing for red doors, and architecture that melds in interesting ways.


A decadent visit to Ladurée on Les Champs-Élysées


If this is what Sainte Chapelle looked like on a grey day, imagine if the sun was streaming through all that stained glass.


The view from L’Arc de Triomphe is magnificent in all directions.


La Madeleine meets Calvin Klein. Unfortunately this kind of juxtaposition was a common sight.


Moonlight over the Louvre. Bonne nuit, Paris.

Charmed by Onegin

In the opening song in the musical Onegin, the actors sing, “We hope to please, we hope to charm, we hope to break you open.”

There is plenty of all three. I left the Surrey Arts Centre feeling like Onegin was everything I didn’t know I wanted in a play.

It’s Russia in the 19th century. Handsome rogue Evgeni Onegin returns to St. Petersburg to inherit an estate after the passing of his uncle and his parents. He visits his neighbours, the Larins, upon the encouragement of his friend Vladmir Lensky who is dating Olga, the younger Larin daughter. The older daughter Tatyana immediately falls for Onegin, hoping for someone to see her the way she has seen the world through the many books she reads.


Onegin played by Jonathan Winsby. Photo by Arts Club Theatre.

It’s not often a play comes along that feels so original. But it’s not original in content. There’s unrequited love. There’s a dual ending in death (foreshadowed in the opening number). There are missed chances and irrevocable decisions. Nothing too out of the ordinary, especially for a Russian play inspired by Pushkin’s verse novel and Tchaikovsky’s opera.

What was original is the way the story was told, written by Amiel Gladstone and Veda Hille who updated it for the 21st century. There’s a stage of characters dressed in period costumes, writing letters and riding horse and buggy, and then along comes a line in Onegin’s song “Three Horses” introducing us to his history, mystery, and apathy: “Where are my back-up singers?” who go on to croon, “He’s fuckin’ gorgeous.” Despite his good looks, wealth, and charm, you get the sense Onegin’s a lonely, unhappy man who, in his own words, “doesn’t care” and even asks the audience, “Am I someone you want to know?”

It’s that mix of traditional and contemporary that makes the play so striking. Integral to the story is the music. Three musicians are on stage the whole time (Jennifer Moersch on cello, Marguerite Witvoet on piano, and Barry Mirochnick on percussion and guitar). Songs that you hear in the first act are echoed in the second, sometimes sung by different characters, adding layers of meaning. And then multiple characters will sing pieces of former songs over each other within a new song and it’s all woven together so seamlessly, a fugue you don’t want to reach the end of. “Good Evening, Bonne Soirée” stood out as the epitome of this overlapping.

The songs fit the story so well, but they also fit our times. They are honest about love and mortality, malaise and meaning. Tatyana’s “Let Me Die” is a powerful ballad featuring an electric guitar that ends with the request, “Let me live before I die.” Onegin will sing this line later on and it is entirely transformed because of the action that’s happened in between.

Another flip is when Tatyana sings Onegin’s line back to him after the tragic duel: “You don’t care, you don’t care, you don’t care, you don’t care, you don’t care.” This repetition could easily become overdone, but each “you don’t care” is delivered by Lauren Jackson with such sincerity and a slightly different register of disappointment/anger, that it actually works and feels truer to speech.

The last song between Tatyana and Onegin was perfection. The physical distance between the characters on stage paralleled the gap in their stories, how long it had been since they last saw each other and the things left unsaid. I’ve never experienced negative space on stage became so activated with meaning.

Because of all the intertwined layers, Onegin is a play you could easily see again to catch all the references made in the opening that only come to light in the second act.

Compared to the long introduction, the ending is quick, almost abrupt. But after two hours, the love story has been told and in such an unforgettable way.

Onegin is running until March 3 at Surrey Arts Centre.


Literary Paris

Before I travel somewhere, I tend to immerse myself in literature about the place. It’s part of my pre-trip research. And I’m not talking Rick Steves or Lonely Planet (though I did my fair share of reading those too). I’m talking about fiction and memoir.

My pre-Paris reading included Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik, A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, We’ll Always Have Paris by Jennifer Coburn, and The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.


Taking my first picture

Pieces of these books returned to me on our one-week stay in Paris last fall. Upon emerging from the metro at St-Germain-des-Prés, the first thing I take a picture of (after pinching myself that that is all real) is the café Les Deux Magots made famous by literary and intellectual patrons such as Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and James Joyce, to name a few.


While we didn’t eat at Les Deux Magots, we did have breakfast at the neighbouring rival Café de Flore one morning, which boasted an equally impressive clientele. In “A Tale of Two Cafés,” a chapter in Paris to the Moon, Adam Gopnik muses on why the Flore has become more popular among Parisians since the late 1990s. We wanted to experience this legendary ambience but it came at a high price. And while sitting on the terrace watching a morning unfold was lovely, the slow and snobby service left a bad taste in our mouths, even though we expected it to a certain extent given we are tourists with obvious English accents and backpacks. Next time I would just go for their hot chocolate which is apparently a must-have.


Ernest Hemingway cropped up again in The Latin Quarter. We visited his former apartment at 74 rue du Cardinal Lemoine and ate our last dinner in Paris overlooking Place de la Contrescarpe, a square he mentions several times in his memoir. We also tracked down Gertrude Stein’s apartment at 27 rue de Fleurus.


Ernest Hemingway’s apartment


Gertrude Stein’s apartment

Plaques indicating where famous people were born, lived, died, or did something remarkable are commonplace. I loved walking down seemingly “normal” streets (which really don’t exist in Paris), only to discover a plaque with a very famous name on it. Even on the tiny rue Visconti, the site of our Airbnb, playwright Jean Racine died and author Honoré de Balzac established his printing house. Tons of surprises like this awaited us upon arrival and added joy to our wanderings.


“Home” for the week was down this charming, narrow street


Keeping company with Balzac’s printing house


Where Voltaire died

Other sites we planned for, like the apartment in Montmartre where Vincent Van Gogh stayed when he lived in Paris at 54 rue Lepic. It was his brother Theo’s. A pair of dried sunflowers hang from the third floor shutters, marking the spot. (As an aside, “0” is our first floor and their 1st is our 2nd floor, etc). In Amsterdam, the last city we visited on our one-month European trip, I bought Vincent’s letters to his brother Theo and that was a perfect way of coming full circle from our beginning in Paris.


Can you spot the sunflowers? (three floors up from the blue door)

And of course no talk about literary Paris would be complete without mentioning Shakespeare and Company, an English-language bookstore you can get lost in in its own right, cozying up with a book on a couch next to its resident cat, reading the inspiring quotes on the walls and stairwells, breathing in the smell of old paper, playing the worn piano (though not after 8pm), chatting with fellow bibliophiles, and feeling like you are in literary heaven.



Starting the New Year with Eagles

The Artist and I ushered in the New Year with out-of-town friends by taking a trip to Brackendale, a small town just north of Squamish. Marked as the “Eagle Capital of the World,” Brackendale is home to one of North America’s largest congregations of wintering bald eagles. They feed on the chum salmon in the Squamish River.


On a trip a previous year, we only saw one eagle flying overhead and were understandably disappointed. This trip yielded far greater results. We winded along the river bank, enjoying the crisp January air and the sun on the mountains and snow.


Once we rounded this bend, we saw our first eagle perched in a tree.



That’s the closest I’ve ever seen one. Majestic and huge, just like they’re portrayed on US money and other things.

We thought that sighting was exciting but then we walked a little further and saw this!



Jackpot day! Not to mention numerous eagles flying overhead. We probably spotted a dozen in total. This is a good time of year to get a visit in if you’re a bird watcher like we are!


Woodward’s Windows

I’m too young to remember the big Woodward’s Department Store at the edge of Vancouver’s Gastown and Chinatown. But I see the illuminated neon “W” when I walk downtown in the evenings and textual reminders on the original building, marking what was once there.


You can see the “W” far in the distance on the left. View from Canada Place.


When in Europe this fall, we just missed the start of the big department stores setting up their window displays for Christmas. I’m sure Le Bon Marche in Paris, the world’s original modern department store, would have had some spectacular ones. It seems I tend to take big trips in October just as the Christmas prep is beginning, as I also recall this window from New York in its early stages.



Woodward’s also had elaborate Christmas displays of animated figures moving behind glass. Canada Place purchased their displays when the store closed in 1993 and have made them available for Vancouverites to enjoy again or for the first time (as in my case). They were wonderful in the original sense of that word. Fun for kids and adults, noticing which figurines are moving and what they’re doing. I loved the mouse atop the Woodward’s trolley, lifting a string attached to a package. The best part? It’s free and makes for a lovely evening, strolling along Canada Place with all the lights glowing and a row of Christmas trees adding to the festiveness.


Around the back of Canada Place, you can also experience a rendition of the North Pole, using a bit of imagination.


The windows are up until tomorrow night (Dec 31) so see them before they’re gone, or catch them next year.

Hope everyone enjoyed a wonderful Christmas and best wishes for 2018!