The Gardens & Greenery of Paris

As I begin to prepare for my upcoming departure to Paris, it gives me goosebumps to think that this time I won’t be trying to cram everything I want to see and experience into a few precious days.  No, this time I will let this gorgeous city reveal herself to me slowly…the lesser known places and spaces, as spirit and inspiration strike us both.  This time I get to experience it all as a local, while ensconced in my own cozy little apartment in the Marais…Paris’ ancient medieval heart.  I can’t wait to have my days and heartbeat begin to fall into rhythm with this city I love.  How will it change and challenge me?

When I think about all of the wonderful things I can’t wait to get back to, the beautiful gardens, greenery, and hidden courtyards dance playfully in my memory.  They provide  respite for the mind, body and soul from everyday life, or just the constant hum of the city around them.  Most have held their space for centuries, and seem to encourage quiet contemplation and reflection, especially for hopeless daydreamers like me.  I have to admit, my sabbatical to Europe was hatched while sitting in the Jardin du Luxembourg.

In tribute to these sacred places, I am including some pictures that I snapped of the verdure of Paris on my trip last autumn.  If ever you can’t find me, look in the gardens and green spaces of the city of light…

 

Learning To Let Go

I have been thinking about “letting go” a lot recently.  More to the point, letting go to return to my roots.  As mentioned in earlier posts, I have made the decision recently to completely strip my life down to the core, allow my heart to rule my head again for a change, and follow my dreams…wherever they may lead.  In case you haven’t read earlier posts, after taking a good shit kicking in 2017, I had the epiphany that now, right now…as in from this second forward, I needed to begin living authentically as much as possible.  Since that moment of clarity, I have been working on letting go of the stranglehold that I have allowed pride, ego, control and fear to place on my life.

Make no mistake, I have a wonderful life, filled with many blessings and people that I love with all my heart.  I just felt strongly, right down to my bone marrow that I was out of sync with my “best” self.  I realized that I was spending most of my time striving to be the Robert that others expected me to be.  At some point I had become a slave to an altered version of myself, and the energy required to maintain this marionette dance had exhausted me completely.  It was not a bad version of myself, pretty successful and happy actually, but somewhere in the distant corners of my mind, an earlier, wilder, more creative version of me was yearning for something more.

Somehow that free spirit, filled with wanderlust and awe survived, in spite of being banished to the furthest corners of my mind.  At what point exactly did I decide that this beautiful, wide-eyed child was no longer appropriate or needed?  Was it when I began to focus on career and climbing the corporate ladder?  Or perhaps when I took on student loans, a mortgage and car payments on the Mercedes.  Time to grow up and get serious, right?  Retirement savings account, check.  New stainless steel appliances and granite counters, check.  Aching back and broken sleep, check.  Climbing the ladder higher, check.  Heartburn and Champagne, check, check.  The little, forgotten voice from the dark recesses growing louder, check!

How did I finally realize it was time to get off the merry-go-round?  Loss is a funny thing.  It affects everyone differently, but it can also be a gift if we let it.  Losing my beloved Mom to cancer in 2017 was the greatest loss I have ever experienced, and I am not a stranger to it.  I lost my Dad at 18 years old, and in years that followed my grandparents, uncles, aunts and friends , but losing Mom shattered me completely.  She was truly the one person that I couldn’t bare the thought of living without, so her battle with cancer and then passing has left me split wide open.  It was through the subsequent grief journey that I have come to realize, sometimes the only way you can rebuild something better and stronger is to break it first, split it wide open.

I am trying to put the pieces of myself back together better then before, taking this huge shift in my life as an opportunity to create positive changes, that I wouldn’t have ever had the inclination, motivation or strength to make had I not had to rebuild my life.  Maybe now is the perfect time to call my precious inner child back into the forefront again.  Maybe I should let go of my white knuckle grip on the steering wheel of life for a while and let him play?  I think perhaps we should all allow some of the wonder, innocence and unlimited possibility of our inner child to come the surface.  Begin to say “yes” more to playfulness, freedom and joy for joys sake…take ourselves just a little less seriously?

So with these revelations simmering just beneath the surface, and my inner child’s voice now strong and clear, I have begun to let go.  I am slowly trying to let go of my grief, and replace the white hot pain with happy memories and loving thoughts.  Yesterday I let go of my position as a hotel General Manager, a position 21 years in the making, and one that has been a huge part of defining who I am up until now.  Next month I will embrace this new found freedom and leave for Europe, letting go of the security and routine of home.  I am working on letting go of the control over life that I seem to need, and just  living in the “flow” of the moment instead.  I believe this is the hardest part for me to master, and when I do, it is always when magic seems to happen.  Lastly, I am letting go of all things large and small that will no longer serve me on this new journey.

I really don’t know what to expect or how I will feel next month when I wind down my job, and then wake up in my little apartment in Paris for the first time.  Or how I will react to having nothing ahead of me but unlimited possibility and a blank slate for the first time in over 20 years.  I have a hunch that it is going to be one hell of a ride, and if I can just learn to let go and live in the moment, I think it will be pretty darn magical.  I hope that you will come along for the ride too!

 

 

 

Glorious Free Fall

I apologize in advance, but this post is going to be a self indulgent, raw and rambling reflection about some significant decisions I have made recently.  About totally shaking up my life in 2018, and marching bravely in the direction of my dreams.  I am talking about jumping off the freaking metaphorical cliff, into glorious free fall…letting go of the precious “control” I seem to wrestle so desperately with.

This intuition to control every aspect of my personal sphere (and probably those adjacent to it too) has had its place, and created a reasonable measure of “success” for me, however so defined.  At 38 years old I have climbed the corporate ladder in the hospitality industry to the position of General Manager with a well know and respected hotel brand, while getting a second education in Interior Design, and then subsequently taking on select interior design projects, and even opening a small lifestyle concept store simultaneously.

It has been a marvelous, balls to the wall 20 years…living, working and traveling all over Canada and the world, but the past 24 months or so have really put me through the meat grinder.  Lately I find myself physically, mentally and spiritually stripped to the bone.  Perhaps I burned my flame a little too brightly early in life?  I have always lived as though my life was an hour glass that the sand was running through a bit too quickly, trying to wring every drop of living into any given day.  Living in Toronto and going to college for design, I was working 40+ hours per week at a prominent hotel, while taking  6 – 8 courses per semester in school…sleep is for the weak, right?  This punishing self imposed schedule has continued for the past 18 years.

Yes, I have achieved, experienced and seen many incredible things, but somehow the traditional trappings of “success” just aren’t enough.  Further to that, my body is sending clear signals that it won’t put up with my shit anymore.  Anyone who knows me, knows that 2017 was my “Annus Horribilis”, and a wake up call.

My reservoirs of strength and courage were already reaching drought levels going into the year.  I had been commuting back and forth from Halifax to Regina approximately every 8 weeks for almost 2 years to spend as much time as possible with my dear, beloved Mom who was battling cancer.  I wouldn’t have given up 1 second of those precious moments with Mom for anything in the world.  She lost that courageous battle in her loving family’s arms in March 2017.  It is a moment in time that has forever changed me.  A moment filled with equal parts of love and sorrow, that has left a precious battle scar on my aching heart.

It is major life events like this that make you take a good hard look around you, and then in the mirror.  To assess if you still like what you are surrounding yourself with, and more importantly the reflection looking back at you.  Is it still in alignment with what you hold dear, what brings you joy, when you feel like your best authentic self?  This temperature check made me realize that I have a lot of work to do.

Somewhere along the line, the focus has become skewed towards security, possessions, and spending far too many hours at work.  When not at work, I am worrying about not being at work.  My precious “down time” peppered with calls, texts and emails.  Something about all of this seems so out of lockstep with how and when I feel my best.  Travelling, soaring, free.  Time spent with my family and friends, heavy with good food and drink.  Quiet Sundays at home doing nothing in the yard.  Lately I just can’t seem to turn things off to enjoy these moments.

Here is where the big change comes in.  While on my trip to Europe last fall, I decided that it was the first time that I had truly felt carefree in ages.  What bliss!  It reminded me of the innocence of being a kid, the seemly endless days that stretched out ahead, to fill with whatever my imagination could conjure.  I decided that everyone deserves a “redo” of childhood.  You know, later in life…when we can actually appreciate and influence the experience.  Some how “second childhood” just doesn’t have a ring to it, so we will call it “wildhood” instead.  I am staking claim to my wildhood in 2018, and hope to chronicle those adventures in this blog.

To that end, I am leaving my job in February (I feel a little bit lightheaded just writing this), and going on a sabbatical to Europe to figure what the next chapter looks like.  I am off to spend 6 weeks in Paris, then to Salzburg and Vienna, then 6 weeks in Spain, then to Dubrovnik to grab a small cruise to Split Croatia in early July.  After that, who knows.  I am letting go of my white knuckle stranglehold on control, and the cliff that is my career and security.  Glorious free fall.  Beautiful surrender.  And who knows, perhaps I will find my best self again along the way?

Street Art

Street art – passionate, raw, powerful.  These unsung masterpieces, that brighten and elevate even the most drab corners of our urban landscape captivate me.  The artists motivation is not monetary, or even recognition, as they are most often anonymous.  It is a pure creative expression, an invitation to view the world through their lens.  Their experiences, their dreams, their destiny…poured fourth onto these borrowed canvases.

On yet another one of my self assigned photography missions during my recent trip to Europe, I captured the below images of some colorful, unusual and downright stunning pieces.  Street art takes on so many forms.  Paint, sculpture, mosaic, music, greenery and performance art.  My heart swells at the sight of any and all of the above.  What a joy to witness the power of the human spirit, harnessed in a brush stroke, musical note or other outpouring of creativity.

My sincere gratitude and admiration to anyone who shares their gifts and vision with the world, regardless of the platform used to bring that uniqueness forward, and regardless of what others think.  Share your light with the world, and shine on!  There is a masterpiece laying within all of us, just waiting to be born.

 

 

Cafe Culture

Is there anything better then enjoying a drink and some tapas in the warm Spanish sun?  While savoring this daily ritual in Granada, I am hard pressed to come up with anywhere else I would rather be.

Fascinating people watching, soaking up beautiful weather and scenery, cooling down with cervezas and sangria and indulging in delicious tapas…Spanish cafe culture at its best!  Day and night, Granada’s many cafes, terraza’s, restaurants and bars, all of which spill out onto the adjacent streets, squares and sidewalks are packed with life, laughter and love.  Even though my Spanish skills are rudimentary at best, I love to try to pick up bits and pieces of the conversations going on all around me, and then let my overactive imagination fill in the rest.  If everyone only knew what exciting, cinematic lives I was busy painting for them in my minds eye!

I love trying the endless array of amazing small plates that come as a complimentary snack with your drinks here.  I believe that Granada is one of the few places left in Andalusia, if not all of Spain that still observes the tradition of providing tapas free of charge with drink orders.  It is actually a pretty smart system if you think about it.  I know that I stay far longer (and for many more beverages) then I would without these small savory offerings.  If for nothing else, out of sheer curiosity to see what the next gastronomic treat might be.

I really dug in and did the leg work on researching the true tapas experience on this last stay in Granada, having cerveza after cerveza, day after day.  All in the name of research, of course…to catalog the astonishing variety of tapas for my little blog here.  It was a difficult assignment yes, but I faced it head on, with dedication and vigor.  My liver is still recovering a month later, but what a riot!  Aside from the delightful food and drink, I also enjoy the social aspect of cafe culture.  I find the Spanish to be some of the most warm and friendly people you could ever hope to meet, especially when you show interest in their culture and an openness to new experiences.

I have included a few pictures below that show a small sampling of the variety of tapas that I enjoyed while “researching” this post.  These images do not even begin to do justice to the bold and diverse flavors, or sublime surroundings.  You will have to use your imagination to fill in the sound of the Genil river and birdsong in the background, to feel the warmth of the sun on your face, or hear the distant flamenco guitar.

Please find a brief description below of the tapas enjoyed in these pictures.  Keep in mind, these are all provided gratis…free, free, free!

  • Perfect, crispy fried sardines with lettuce lightly dressed in oil & vinegar
  • Fried breadcrumbs and bits of sausage with refreshing melon
  • Lima beans stewed in olive oil with ham and garlic
  • Seafood paella with squid, mussels and cuttlefish
  • Mushrooms sauteed in cream, wine and garlic – bread to dip…yes please!
  • Buttery, flaky tuna tart with marinated olives
  • A stew of chickpeas, lima beans potatoes and blood sausage
  • Tender squid in a spicy tomato sauce
  • Chicken and seafood stew
  • Delicious jamon (ham) iberico on bread with cheese and a drizzle of olive oil

 

Eye Candy

On every trip to Paris, they never cease to amaze me.  The vibrant, creative, cool, drool worthy shop windows.  Seriously people, these are freaking works of art!  The only apt description that comes to mind as I roam around the city admiring these beauties, slack jawed…is eye candy.

The thought and creative energy that goes into these vignettes, selling seemingly simple, everyday items from eyeglasses, to baguette to clown wigs, is simply amazing.  It makes me want to spend the rest of my life emptying my pockets into the stores that would take such care in making a beautiful statement to the world.  Who can ever have too many clown wigs or pairs of vintage eyeglasses anyway?

When I was in Paris this past October, I decided to make it a mission to photograph some of its inspiring store fronts.  At the end of the day, it was hard to edit them down.  Literally, everywhere I looked was a picture perfect snapshot.  Just another example of the panache and “je ne sais quoi” that is so endearing and engaging about life in Paris.  Something tells me that I might have to spend more time in Paris to really explore and immerse myself in this way of life…nudge nudge, wink wink.  More on that later, in another post.  OK, full disclosure, it has already been decided…but more in another post.

The more I get to know it, the more Paris becomes my dream.  Cobblestones, flying buttresses, melted butter, and joie de viure.  These artful shop windows are just another tug at my already smitten heart strings.  Damn!  It turns out that I am a sucker for beauty, simply for beauty’s sake, who knew?  If you can make something as unassuming as the window of a sweet shop, bakery or cafe look this gorgeous…why wouldn’t you?  That is what the people of Paris seem committed to.  Making things lovely…as an expression of human joy and pride is, it would seem, an end in itself.  How civilized.

 

 

 

In Search of Moorish Granada

I love to dabble in photography when I travel.  Albeit with the humble camera that my phone comes equipped with, and an amateur attempt at best…but I have a lot of fun with it!  I like to give myself an “assignment”, a particular subject matter that speaks to me while in that unique destination.

On my recent trip back into Granada Spain, the topic of interest this visit was to uncover the hidden gems of its Moorish past.  It was almost as though the ancient Nasirid city was calling out to me, from beneath centuries and centuries of alterations, plaster, paint, pavement and dust.  Waiting to be discovered again.

During my two weeks in Andalusia, it became my mission to uncover the Moorish jewels that lurked just beneath the skin of the modern city.  Once I began my quest, it was as if I was being guided by Boabdil himself.  From obscure side streets and out of the way nooks and carnies in the old Arab quarter, to hidden Carmen’s and quiet courtyards, hilltops, gardens and construction sites.  I let spirit and intuition be my compass, and as a result uncovered more stunning and out of the way examples then I could have ever imagined.

Often I would decide spontaneously to take an opposite fork in the road or path then intended.  Somehow this would always lead to an old Arab archway, spectacular ruin, or restoration project that was busy exposing old Moorish architecture.  Beauty still lingering beneath the garish facades that have been troweled on over the elegant brickwork, fine lace details, and bright tile work of the ancient.

It as though the Emirate is awakening from a great slumber, demanding its audience once more.  The ancient structures almost seem to be pealing back their own skin to reveal noble roots, rejecting the later incarnations that were grafted onto the original.  Washington Irving alludes to an enchantment being cast over the kingdom of Granada by the Moorish before it was conquered by the Spanish monarch…to protect their sacred places and treasures for all time.

One really has to ponder this a bit deeper when they see these stunning cultural treasures that have survived hundreds of years of earthquakes, war, neglect, and attempts to alter them beyond recognition.  Defiant, beautiful and lasting…an Arabian dream that refuses to be extinguished.