Monday, April 30, 2012

You're Such a Big Baby

Today started as a disappointing day for Auntie.

For weeks now, I'd been planning to take in the giant Vide Grenier or community garage sale in the pretty town of Beaulieu sur Mer.  Their Vide Grenier is one of the largest and best in the region and I'd been looking forward to it ever since it was cancelled back in late April due to bad weather.  Last time I went, Auntie Meghan bought a lovely shelf for her kitchen and I bought a little ceramic cat. 

This morning I threw open the curtains with a big smile on my face only to be greeted by a dead grey sky and rain pelting down.  I shut the curtains and started to sulk.  Wah!  With the rain getting heavier the Vide would be cancelled for sure.  Double Wah!

Well, as it turns out there were bigger babies than me in Monaco this morning!

With my plans to venture down the coast suddenly cancelled and visions of good, cheap junk swirling down the sewer along with them, I did as any Auntie with some unexpected time on her hands would do -  bake something!

As I was mixing the batter for some cornmeal and lemon madeleines for Uncle Jim to dip in his morning cappuccino, the clouds thinned so I thought I'd venture outside.  I love Sundays in Monaco because it's so quiet and calm.  The madeline batter needed time to rest in the fridge anyhow, so I stuck on my running shoes, popped my head out the front door, sniffed the air and off I went. 

Little did I know that a quiet walk was the last thing Auntie had in store...

Just down the street at the Oceanographic Museum there was a big hub bub. Someone had left a baby on their doorstep.  But this baby was no cute little foundling, this was a gigantic baby boy, seemingly floating in the air! 

The baby's name is "Planet" and its father is British artist, Marc Quinn.  His bouncing baby boy is made of bronze and steel, 3 metres tall by 9 metres long.  Things could get messy.  I don't think they make nappies big enough for that baby.

Last year for the 100th Anniversary Celebration of Monaco's Oceanographic Museum, big works of art were sprinkled throughout the museum and on the roof. It's a spectacular setting for artwork, especially large pieces that have lots of room in the enormous spaces inside the museum.  I imagine they'll find a good place inside to put Planet down for his nap.

After a short detour to photograph and coochie coo the baby, Planet, I continued my walk and minutes later I came face to stern with another big baby in the exact same place where the Chinese Frigate was moored last week.  This time it was the immense and impressive ocean liner, Cunard's Queen Victoria. This big baby was born in 2007, weighs 90,000 gross tons and can carry almost 2,000 passengers.  It's bigger sister, the Queen Mary 2 floated into Monaco last April and brought back some fond memories for Auntie  because eight years ago, Auntie and Uncle Jim were on board the QM2 for its maiden voyage.
Two other ships were docked in Monaco, both of them cruise ships that looked like fragile preemies compared to the robust Queen Victoria ocean liner.  All three ships were filled with passengers, all of whom were roaming around Monaco-Ville transforming it from a sleepy Sunday into a noisy street festival.  

Everywhere I went I'd hear the "toot toot" of the police blowing on their whistles trying to tame the crowds and keep the everyone from walking where he shouldn't.

With so many visitors it was becoming impossible to get around.  I cut my walk short and climbed the long staircase home. 

Once inside our little nest, surrounded by peace and quiet, I baked Uncle Jim's Madeleines. I had a choice of two pans, one to make big ones and one to make little ones.  Auntie had had enough of big babies, big ships and big crowds for one day so I made little ones.

Tuesday there's going to be a big Vide Grenier in Menton.  Let's hope Auntie makes it to that one!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Out of the Rut and onto a Frigate

Well, I must admit that even I was getting tired of hearing myself complain about how the set up of Monaco's Annual Grand Prix is messing with my morning fitness walk amongst other things.  

So this morning, I decided to put my feet where my mouth is and figure out a new walking route, one that would avoid the chain link fencing, barricades, noisy trucks and cranes.  Oops, there I go again!

Well, I can truly say that I was
rewarded for the detour...  

Instead of my usual route that starts with me charging down the ramp from Monaco-Ville and then eastward, I took the steps that wound through the picturesque Fort Antoine and down towards the Digue or mooring point where huge cruise ships dock when they sail into Monaco.

There was Auntie, zipping merrily along, thinking that I may have discovered a great new walking route but when I got to the bottom of the staircase, there was an enormous, grey ship blocking my view of the port.  Auntie went in for a closer look.

The ship was a Frigate from People's Republic of China aka, the PLA Navy.  There were handsome Chinese sailors everywhere, some guarding the gangway and some standing on board.  They all looked quite natty in crisp white uniforms with shiny buttons, medals, nifty white caps and polished white shoes. Some of them were toting guns!  This deserved a closer look.
Naturally, I pulled out my camera and while I was snapping away, I noticed a smiling sailor just to the left of the gangway.  He was standing behind a little table with neatly piled brochures.  I walked over to say hello and get a brochure.  Unfortunately, he didn't speak English and I don't speak Chinese so after a minute or so of hand motions, pointing, smiling by the both of us and some nodding gestures, I finally figured it out.  They were offering tours of their ship.  Of course Auntie wanted in on that fun so up the gangway I went!

On board the ship, the first thing I noticed was how clean it was. There wasn't a speck of dust nor dirt, smudges, grit nor grime anywhere. Then I noticed that I was the only civilian.

During the tour, I was escorted up stairs, down stairs, aft, midship, stem, stern and bow, with a few stops here and there for photos of course. 

Nifty Brochures

The officers were very polite and handsome in spotless white uniforms. I kept wishing that I spoke Chinese so I could have asked to see the galley.  I thought I smelt something cooking and I was dying to see what was on the stove.
After the tour was over, I was escorted down the gangway and after saying thank you to all, off I went to continue my morning power walk.  After a few phone calls and Google searches, I'm still not sure why they were in Monaco but l'll keep looking.

It just goes to show you that you just never know what you'll find when you leave the beaten path and take a look around.


Monday, April 23, 2012

House Meet Villa. Villa Meet House.

There's something strange about addresses in Monaco.

More often than not, if you ask someone in Monaco where they live, they will tell you the name of their building, never the address or the street name.  For some quirky reason, everyone knows the names of the buildings and where the buildings are but never the address!

"I live at The Mirador," they may say or, "I have taken up residence for the season at the Columbia."

Auntie Puddy would always say, "you can find me in Paradis,"  which is French for paradise, which is where Auntie Puddy lived before she moved.

It's a quaint tradition but it does take some getting used to. Especially if you don't know where the buildings are.
Miss Scarlett and Tara

Before Auntie moved to Europe, I knew only a few houses by name.  In the movie, Gone  With the Wind, Miss Scarlett's beloved estate, Tara was one.  The visionary yet impractical, "Fallingwater" by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright being another.

It's a well known tradition to name one's yacht or boat but who would have guessed that it's a big tradition for the French and Italians to name their houses too. 

Sometimes it's a simple name like "Le Home" for a modest little shack or the beautiful and magestic, "Villa Riberi"  in Monaco where poultry of all kinds were once sold in Monaco in the olden days.  If I were a hen, I'd have been proud to have my eggs sold there!

I think I'd name my French house "Villa Chouchouter" or "Villa Pamper" which is what I'd do to my nieces, nephews, and friends when they visited.

If you were to name your house, what would it be?

Friday, April 13, 2012

There Goes the Pretty, Again.

Remember last year when Auntie wrote about the Grand Prix and how it's crazy making for people who live in Monaco?

Well, it's that time of year again boys and girls!  Monaco's going car crazy!

First to arrive in town to whet everyone's car whistle is Top Marques Monaco.  

Starting next week, for a50 admission fee, you can oogle and lust after an admirable array of rare and beautiful cars.  Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Rolls Royce all have cars on display.  And if you book in advance, you can test drive them too.  

A few years ago, Uncle Jim saved up enough of his lunch money for the 50 admission fee and went to Top Marques.  He test drove an electric Roadster made by Tesla and from time to time he becomes misty eyed when he reminisces about the experience.  Too bad they stopped making them. I guess Uncle Jim should have bought one when he had the chance!

When The Top Marques show is over and the air has cleared from all those exhaust fumes, the Historic Grand Prix arrives on May 11 followed two weeks later by the Formula 1 Grand Prix. This gives people a last chance to escape.

Now, if you're a fan of cars and you have a good set of ear plugs, then it's a great time to be in Monaco but if you're not, like Auntie, it's quite annoying.  Why? Because the race is run on Monaco's streets. I'm not kidding!  

Those very same roads that people walk on, cyclists cycle on and cars drive on, are transformed into a race track for the Grand Prix and they've been doing it since 1929.  That's 83 years worth of crazy!  Although for the first few years they didn't erect any barricades, they just told everyone to stand back and get out of the way if a car was coming.  I imagine you had to be quite nimble and have good eye sight.

You can't park there!
It takes about a month to set up the track which means that for pedestrians, the streets  become more and more treacherous every day.  

Poor Auntie, today she was jumping hurdles and running an obstacle course by climbing over barricades, dodging forklifts and trying to avoid getting run over by cars whose drivers were as confused as I was.  

One thing's for sure.  This time of year, the grand Prix means means Auntie gets a good aerobic workout!

I'm "tired" of it already!
This way to the chaos!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mr Gilbert, Palm Frond Artist

Mr GIlbert with this year's creation for Prince Albert and Princess Charlene

Last Saturday, on the day before Palm Sunday, I was walking to the market in nearby Beausoliel to buy Uncle Jim's favourite bread for dinner.

There was Auntie, zooming along, thinking about nothing in particular except what kind of soup to make to eat with  Uncle Jim's favourite bread, but as I was passing the pretty Eglise St Charles, something caught my eye. 

Under a little red and yellow tent was Mr GIlbert, who was busily working away, creating the most intricate and beautiful sculptures made out of palm fronds.  He was surrounded by hundreds of his creations, some topped with white and red ribbons.

What was this all about, I wondered?

Here in the south of France, palm frond sculptures or Rameaux are popular around Easter time to celebrate Palm Sunday.  You can also see Rameaux  in nearby Ventimiglia, Italy, but the ones you'll find there are mostly simple crosses that cost just a few euro. 
A Thai Loy Krathong sculpture

Mr Gilbert's elaborate Rameaux cost a lot more and put those little crosses to shame! His are true works of art and they reminded me of the beautiful and intricate sculptures that Auntie saw in Thailand during their annual Loy Krathong holiday.

Rameaux aren't just works of art.  They have a symbolic meaning for Catholics and if you bring your Rameaux to church on Palm Sunday, your priest will bless them for you.  After that, you can display your Rameaux in your home.

Mr Gilbert put down his fronds and scissors for a few  minutes and he told me his story.

Rameaux fit for royalty
Mr Gilbert's family has been making beautiful and ornate Rameaux sculptures for 7 generations and his family are the official suppliers of Rameaux to Monaco's Royal Family.
Palm fronds ready for sculpting
Every year, starting the week before Palm Sunday, Mr Gilbert rises at 4AM and works away until midnight each day to make hundreds of Rameaux for his many clients.  

This year, the special Rameaux he made for  Prince Albert and his new wife, Princess Charlene was tall, elaborate and beautiful.  A true work of art.  He proudly showed it to Auntie with the special ones he had made  for Princess Caroline and Princess Stephanie.  He was going to deliver them to the Palace later that afternoon.

Before I left Mr GIlbert, Auntie bought a small, pretty one and when I got it home, Uncle Jim and I  spent some time marvelling at it and how it was made.  

Then we had dinner with a delicious vegetable soup and Uncle Jim's favourite bread which was the reason why I discovered Mr Gilbert and his Rameaux in the first place.

And I bet you thought that Easter eggs were the only creative things to make at Easter!