My hotel window opened onto one of the many canals criss-crossing Bruges. I sat on the
window seat, watching the tourist barges putter past. Under the autumn sun the water sparkled. Across the way, the occasional horse and carriage passed by. Willows graced the banks, and footbridges arched just high enough for the barges to pass. Some swans came to the window, looking for offerings from my afternoon tea.
The Groenerei (or Green Canal) is one of the old town’s major waterways, and was only two bridges away from our hotel. As I walked along it the next morning I was surprised to see a golden retriever pawing at a window of the Côté Canal Hotel. Unseen hands opened the latch and spread out a quilt, and the dog made himself quite comfortable lying across the window-sill, soaking up the sun as he watched the world go by. This was my first sighting of the famous Dog of Bruges. Every morning he gets into place as the tourist boats start up for the day. Apart from appearing in the photos of every tourist who passes, he has even starred in both TV commercials and movies (including a two second cameo for In Bruges).
Continue Reading →
The bay stretches forever. Usually the water is still, disturbed only by the pelicans landing to pass their day gliding along the surface. The dark wooden poles of the oyster leases stretch through the tranquility.
Whenever I pass here on my way to work, I wonder yet again: what am I doing? Why am I not out in the sun, enjoying the play of sunlight on the water?
Even on a gloomy day, as the dark clouds roll in, or the rain sweeps across the water, the bay still beckons. Should I have time I pull over and stare over the water for a while. Aside from the peak hour cars zooming past me, there is usually no one else around. Perhaps a jogger, sometimes an elderly couple having a stroll. Continue Reading →
This is an extended version of a guest blog I wrote for mytravelintuscany.com – the rest will (eventually!) follow in another blog
The gypsy didn’t draw breath. Curses both florid and impressive showered down upon me and my descendants – a possibility my guidebook had failed to mention. The gypsy opened my eyes, however, to the fact Florence offers far more than any guidebook can suggest.
Padlock The Duomo
The views are reason enough to climb the Duomo’s 463 stairs. Impressively, many Italian women manage this feat in heels. In unobtrusive corners in the stairwell I found marks left from the medieval builders. Then, on descending, I traversed the inner ceiling at the height of the gods, at times almost a hand’s breadth away from Vasari’s frescos.
The steepest part of climb the Duomo is over the arch. This is the place to find lovelocks – padlocks placed by couples who then throw away the key, so declaring their undying love. Once I saw the padlocks, I discovered many more; one or two on a grille covering a window, on an opening, or an inconspicuous bar. The masses of lovelocks on the Ponte Vecchio are renowned (as they are on the Pont des Arts in Paris, and as frequently removed), yet placing one here, in the heights of the Duomo, felt incredibly personal.
Continue Reading →
“What did you say?”
“I said: Fantômas.”
“And what does that mean?”
“But what is it?”
“Nobody…. And yet, yes, it is somebody!”
“And what does the somebody do?”
So opens the classic French crime novel, Fantômas.
Reading Fantômas, I often forgot the novel was written in 1911 (and translated from the French in 1915). Fantômas is not a gothic villain but a modern serial killer, who shows neither remorse nor mercy for his victims (not even for his son). Violent in his methods, Fantômas is adept at psychological manipulation, and takes delight in his crimes. He is a sadistic sociopath easily recognised in the modern world of crime writing.
Yet as the New York Times then wrote, “One episode simply melts away as the next takes over….Juve cleverly pursues him in speeding trains, down dark alleys, through glittering Parisian salons, obsessed with bringing the demon mastermind to justice”. James Joyce described the series simply as “Enfantômastic!” Continue Reading →
I sat soaking up the sun in a small walled garden. Tumbling geraniums held the moss-covered stones together, just as they did most of this hillside town. The drone of bees left the air heavy. Once formal garden paths weaved towards a statue of the Virgin, who stood forgotten in the centre of the garden. A rose branch crept out to tenderly embrace her.
Persimmons in the convent garden
Autumn sunshine danced through the trees, with midges floating contentedly in the warmth of its wake. Church bells floated up from the city. Below me, the Duomo rose above the purple haze of Florence. I hadn’t expected the cathedral to dominate the skyline so. Maybe when it was first built, but not in the twenty-first century.
Some forty-eight hours ago my plane had landed in darkness. Flying anywhere from Australia takes forever, and I’d spent a lifetime suspended in that metal cocoon. At four in the morning Rome airport lay deep asleep – except the barista, his immaculate attire completed by an elegant three-day growth. He slid an espresso across the polished counter to me, and in minutes the potent brew had shattered through the layers of cobwebs numbing my brain. Continue Reading →
The river washed away the humidity of the wet-season. A soft breeze drifted over the water, granting some relief from the heat. Our little wooden boat putted further and further upstream as a wall of green closed around us. Civilization seemed far away.
Working the rice paddies, Vietnam
Only that morning I’d been wandering the chaos of Saigon. Before dawn the bikes start their chorus of horns. Even at that hour the streets are busy, and the place simply bursts with energy. It is a city totally alive – and totally exhausting with its humidity.
Our minivan soon left the city behind. Lush rice paddies stretched towards the horizon. In a scene unchanged with the centuries, water buffalo pulled ploughs as farmers in their conical hats bent under the sun, planting rice seedlings. Colourful ancestral shrines stood amongst the verdant fields.
Continue Reading →