From Asakusa to Ueno Station, Streets with no name… and very few people

As I took a walk on a Tuesday morning in the north-east side of Tokyo (the area of Asakusa), I was struck by how empty the streets were in such a big and overpopulated city. Where were the residents of Tokyo? Where were they hiding on a busy week day? No cars. You could walk in the middle of the street. Sometimes, not often, one on two bicycles would urge you to step aside. Closer to noon, you could see kids in school uniform, carrying identical backpacks, hurrying back home for their lunch break. Little ones, trusted on their own.

Another particularity of the streets of Tokyo is that they have no names. According to A Geek in Japan (http://www.kirainet.com/english/index.php?s=streets): “In Japan, streets are simply an empty space in between blocks, they don’t have an identity. However you can identify buildings following a 3 digit system: the first one indicates the district, the second one the block and the third one the building or house inside the block. It is a completely different, but perfectly valid, system of structuring and organizing cities. You have to change your whole mindset.”

Whether, the streets are empty of crowds or of names, they are beautiful. From the electric wires and cables that run over your head, to the very narrow streets between buildings that let pass a magical light, the colors, the diversity of things around you, new buildings intermingling with old houses, a countryside spirit in a huge city… the walk from Asakusa subway station to Ueno station is a delight and if you happen to go to Tokyo, take the time for a morning stroll.

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The hidden marvels of the Parc de Saint-Cloud

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It was one of these evenings of July, after a long day at work, when the weather was still OK and there was daylight way after 10 pm, that I took my umpteenth stroll to the Parc de Saint-Cloud. I’ve known and visited the Parc many many times for the last 20 years and I was sure I knew the place by heart. I mean I thought I knew the place by heart…

Last week I went there again, as usual to oxygenate my lungs and neurons. I found myself making my way up a narrow stony stairway that I had never taken before. As I pushed a green gate, I stepped into a new place, unknown to me up till then. Wow!!!

It felt like I was parachuted onto a huxelian island, a utopia of cedars and magnolias with a translucent lake summoning a tribe of geese to take a fresh dip and a bird cacophony mingling with the exotic scent of flowers to create confusion among the senses. It was an out-of-the-way place you would take a long courier flight to visit, at a walking distance from home. Opposite the majestic centenary cedars, the Eiffel Tower stood visible on the horizon.

The photos here are too silent and too scentless, but maybe they do convey the place’s dignified allure?

The crisp taste of the wine

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My colleagues offered me a birthday present for my 40th spring: one whole day at the school of wine in Paris. So I set my alarm to wake up early on a Sunday morning and studiously dragged my feet to school … to get drunk!

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Seriously speaking, the wine class was really interesting. I was taught stuff like what type of wine I should serve with what type of food. Actually, marrying savours is mathematics, chemistry, natural sciences and geography combined. Knowing this would surely not make your life any easier when it comes to preparing meals from now on.

While testing our capacity to put a name to a smell, I got it right for “Cannelle” (cinnamon). I will never forget the smell of that spicy tea from Starbucks I once tried to smuggle into the cinema and that spilled into my handbag. Sometimes, hitches like this one can be useful for developing the senses. Certainly, my senses will never forget the Ecole du Vin experience … hiccup !!

*Pictures taken at Village de Bercy.

As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
— Ernest Hemingway (A Moveable Feast)

You don’t beat this river

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“I just believe,’ he said, ‘that the whole thing is going to be reduced to the human body, once and for all. I want to be ready…. I think the machines are going to fail, the political systems are going to fail, and a few men are going to take to the hills and start over…. I had an air-raid shelter built,’ he said. ‘I’ll take you down there sometime. We’ve got double doors and stocks of bouillon and bully beef for a couple of years at least. We’ve got games for the kids, and a record player and a whole set of records on how to play the recorder and get up a family recorder group. But I went down there one day and sat for a while. I decided that survival was not in the rivets and the metal, and not in the double-sealed doors and not in the marbles of Chinese checkers. It was in me. It came down to the man, and what he could do. The body is the one thing you can’t fake; it’s just got to be there…. At times I get the feeling I can’t wait. Life is so fucked-up now, and so complicated, that I wouldn’t mind if it came down, right quick, to the bare survival of who was ready to survive. You might say I’ve got the survival craze, the real bug. And to tell you the truth I don’t think most other people have. They might cry and tear their hair and be ready for some short hysterical violence or other, but I think most of them wouldn’t be too happy to give down and get it over with…. If everything wasn’t dead, you could make a kind of life that wasn’t out of touch with everything, with other forms of life. Where the seasons would mean something, would mean everything. Where you could hunt as you needed to, and maybe do a little light farming, and get along. You’d die early, and you’d suffer, and your children would suffer, but you’d be in touch.”

Excerpt from James Dickey, Deliverance.

Picture taken in Bois de Boulogne, Paris.

Mille Feux at Villandry

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A couple of years ago I visited Villandry during the day and captured a few pictures.*

Only later, did I learn about the annual two-day event, called Mille Feux, that attracts hundreds of people — poetry, art and music lovers — to the Château to take a fairy-tale stroll around gardens that will be lit up by thousands of candles.

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This year the light and fire event will take place on 5 & 6 July 2013. Visit the Château’s official website : http://www.chateauvillandry.fr/en/

*pictures taken at Chateau Villandry in August 2010

You will always have your flowers, Mr. Monet

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was just waiting for a sunny day to return to Giverny to make a new set of pictures. Except that Miss Sun, continued like an indefatigable child to play her clever hide-and-seek game, shining when I was at work, and hiding over the weekends. Today, I lost patience with her childish stance. I hopped into the car and drove to Giverny without paying heed to her anymore. It was lightly raining but “Tant pis !”

Tant pis?”  Not at all. It was rather “Tant mieux” !  As I got there – and after a stroll in the Musée des Impressionistes to drink in Signac’s colors of water – I was taken aback by the rain’s effect on Monet’s garden. The colors were intense and flowers were dressed up in all their finery, scintillating droplets adding the finishing touches.

After a shower of Signac’s colorful waters, Monet’s dewy garden came as a sweet-scented smorgasbord for the senses.

This is how I spent a wonderful unsunny afternoon.

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