Paris!! The Coronavirus, disability & me – My trip.

It had been 17 years since I last visited Paris. My youngest son had never been, his older brother only had sketchy memories. We were due a holiday and wanted something different – a city break. All being creatives, Paris had to be that city. We spent months researching the arrondissements, the tourist attractions and the places we could visit off the beaten track. We decided on an apartment rather than a hotel, wanting to experience a tiny bit of Parisian life, drinking coffee on our own balcony, overlooking the rooftops. Our train to London was booked, along with the Eurostar. I devoured novel after novel set in the City of Light. I was immensely excited, nothing could spoil our trip.

And then the Coronavirus hit.

We were part of a visit Paris group on-line – everyone remained upbeat – nobody was going to cancel – cases in distant countries weren’t going to deter people from travelling. But then the virus escalated and suddenly the countries affected weren’t too distant and after an outbreak in Italy it was only a mater of time before it spread widely in France. People began cancelling their trips, should we?

Two days before we were due to leave The Louvre was closed with warnings that more attractions would follow. A hotel of tourists in Tenerife was quarantined. We were concerned, not solely because of the virus but because we didn’t want to be stuck overseas. My son had to be back at uni on time for assessments otherwise he might have to repeat his second year.

The day before we were due to travel there was a massive rise in cases in France. I rang my insurance company, would they cover us if we didn’t travel. They wouldn’t. Rather than excitement about our impending trip, all I felt was a sick dread. Was I putting my children in danger? What should we do? On the morning of our departure, we were still debating. In the end we decided to risk it and hope for the best. Hurriedly I packed, clothes for rainy days, layers for the chill and plenty of things to do in case we were quarantined. Our journey was uneventful, no health checks were made or questions were asked when leaving our country or entering France,

On our first day I was anxious, we decided to have a calming wander around the city. I had a loose itinerary but knew from past experience the best way to enjoy Paris is to follow your feet and see what you stumble across, around every corner is a joy to discover.

We stepped out into the glorious Spring sunshine and meandered past the stunning architecture, sharing a smile. We were here! It was okay! Before long we spotted signs for a museum. When we got there it was closed, the sign on the door was in French but we understood the heading in thick, blood letters ‘CORONOVIRUS’ we turned away, just as a group wearing face masks passed us. It was sobering. Again I wondered if we should have stayed at home. The streets were quieter than usual. On the bridge a man coughed and visitors skirted around him, however there weren’t nearly as many people wearing masks as I thought there would be, most people weren’t.

A handful of attractions were closed because of the virus but there is so much to do in Paris it didn’t matter. As the days passed we (I) grew more relaxed. The city wasn’t crowded, it was always possible to get a table in a cafe. There were no queues anywhere, not even at the Eiffel Tower or Musee D’Orsay. It was Paris like I’d never experienced before and likely never will again.

In retrospect I am so glad we didn’t cancel our trip but that’s no judgement on people who do. Face masks and fear are things you shouldn’t have to content with on a vacation. Paris will (should) always be there, hopefully the virus won’t.

We crammed such a lot into our week, far too much to share but these were our highlights: –

Place de Vosges – This is the oldest planned square in Paris. The writer, Victor Hugo lived in one of the gorgeous houses here. It’s so tranquil it’s like stepping back in time. There are some amazing galleries and boutiques lining the square as well as the bookshop in Hotel Sully.

J J Leto is the best busker I have ever seen and definitely one of my favourite things. The second we saw him we settled ourselves on the pavement and listened to his entire set before buying one of his CD’s. It’s the unexpected delights that often make a trip. This was one of them.

 

We wandered along the river and ended up at the Luxembourg Gardens which was a very pretty oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Montmartre is one of my favourite places. I love the street art and the galleries. We visited the Montmartre Museum and I was thrilled to try the swing featured in Renoir’s ‘The Swing’ painting. The Sacre Coeur is stunning and the views across the city are breathtaking.

 

I’m a bit of a stationery obsessive so Melodies Graphiques was a real treat. I came away with bags of handmade paper, a dip pen and ink vowing to write everything the old-fashioned way from now on. Expect my next book to be ready in about 2029…

 

We were lucky that in between the torrential bouts of rain it was warm enough to sit outside at the cafes, soak up the atmosphere and eat a waffle or two.

 

The Eiffel Tower offers such sweeping views it’s great for a photo opportunities. For the best view of the tower head over to the Trocadero and of course, go back at night to see it illuminated and watch the light show that sparkles every hour.

 

I’m such an art lover but I knew we wouldn’t have time to see all the galleries and so I chose carefully. The Musee D’Orsay did not disappoint. I became quite emotional to see paintings I had admired for years via books (including Renoir’s The Swing – I think I’d nailed it.)

The French were so friendly. I greeted everyone with a happy smile and a ‘Bonjour’ and received the same in return. The food was heavenly – we didn’t have a single bad meal although sometimes we had to try several restaurants before we found a vegetarian option.

We would avoid – taxis – we sat in traffic for so long the first day we didn’t bother again. The metro is simple once you’ve done it once and there’s always someone who will help you out.

 

We came away laden with wine, cheese and chocolate; many happy memories and a love for the city. Paris – we shall see you again soon!

Lastly, a few words about disabled access. I have compromised mobility and although I didn’t take my wheelchair I was heavily reliant on crutches. I have walked more this week than I thought was possible (and am paying for it heavily!) The French are super conscious and considerate of anyone disabled. Each time on the Metro I was offered a seat. Had there been queues at attractions I could have skipped them if I’d asked at the front of the queue. There are a lot of stairs in the city. Some avoidable. Some not. The Sacre Coeur has a few hundred but you can avoid most (there are still some) of these by riding up in the Funicular (which is free with a metro pass). The Pantheon had a ramp. Most restaurants and cafes unfortunately have toilets downstairs. There are very few lifts in eating establishments. Most metro stations don’t have them. There are many toilet facilities scattered around the city which I think should fit a wheelchair in. Some of the larger places (The Musee D’Orsay for example) have wheelchairs which you can borrow.

Be the change you want to see – one of my heroes – Cesar Manrique – Creative, compassionate & inspiring

In a previous blog, I wrote about my recent visit to the literary Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jose Saramago’s house while in Lanzarote which you can read here. Today’s post is all about one of my hero’s -Spanish artist and architect Cesar Manrique. I’ve promised myself I’ll make this post short. My family has told me I have a tendency to go on a bit where Cesar is concerned and have pointed out not everyone is interested.

Fair point.

But they should be…

I’m not going to write about Cesar’s early life, his glamorous spell living in New York, instead, focusing on when he returned to his birthplace of Lanzarote in 1966. Cesar adored the island, adored nature, and was years ahead of his time with recycling and caring for the environment, fearing that tourism could potentially destroy the place he loved so much. He lobbied tirelessly for the government to adopt his plans which would ensure the island thrived but remained unspoiled, retaining its own unique landscape.

Cesar was responsible for planning regulations inflicting height regulations on hotels, ensuring telephone cables were buried underground, that roads were built through the remnants of volcanic eruptions, rather than clearing them away, blending the roads in with the landscape. He proposed resorts were kept to three areas of the island and that all houses were whitewashed with shutters and doors painted blue for properties facing towards the sea and green for those facing inland keeping the island picturesque and aesthetically pleasing. He persuaded the government to take a long-term view to preserve the island rather than focusing on short term financial gain, banning advertising billboards. During a film I watched about him, he relayed a story of how when adverts did appear he would go and dig them up with his mini digger during the night.

This is why everyone should be interested – be kind and work in harmony with nature were principles he lived by, principles we should ALL live by. “I believe that we are witnessing a historical moment where the huge danger to the environment is so evident that we must conceive a new responsibility with respect to the future.”

As well as his tell-tale pieces of art around the island, many of Lanzarote’s tourist attractions have a magical feel and were carefully and considerately created by him utilising lava bubbles and caves forged by previous volcanic eruptions. Cesar really embodied ‘Be the change you want to see’ and it’s a shame his work was cut short after his death in a car accident. He really inspires me that with passion and vision, kindness and compassion, we can all make a difference if we work together and never give up.

We visited Cesar Manrique’s foundation which was also his home full of chill out areas in lava bubbles, a pool and a dance floor with a tree growing through the lounge floor, the house he lived in until his death, his cactus garden. His first project Jameos del Agua which was birthed from a collapsed lava tube housing a pool in which thousands of tiny albino crabs live (it’s a great place to have a coffee and chill).  The Mirador del Rio which has the most stunning views across the island.

You can find out more about Cesar Manrique here.

Mindfulness and Writing

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Mindfulness is a huge part of my life and has really enhanced my writing. Being present not only allows me to feel the often tiny physical sensations that accompany emotions I might otherwise miss, but I also have a connection to my environment that has really enhanced my prose. Noticing colours, smells, the feel of air against my skin, those little nuances that really do make a difference.

Of course, Mindfulness also keeps me centred, focused and calm, it’s more than sitting in formal meditation, it’s being fully absorbed in the task in hand, not engaging with distracting thoughts. Yesterday I didn’t want to do a long meditation, I wanted to spend some quality time with my son so I got my creative on and we transformed a pair of his socks into Morris the Mindful Monkey. It’s hard not to be present when doing something expressive.

Morris will now sit on my desk and judge me when I don’t reach my word count in a non-judgemental, encouraging fashion.