May 1st in France: Lily of the Valley

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On May 1st in France, it’s a tradition to offer a mini-bouquet of Lily of the valley to your loved ones. According to legend, while Charles IX and Catherine de Medicis were travelling in the Rhône-Alps, the knight Louis de Girard de Maisonforte offered the young king a sprig of Lily of the valley from his garden as a good-luck charm. Charmed by the flower, the king ordered its distribution to the ladies of the court every May 1st. However this is the traditional flower of the Parisian region/Ile-de-France since the beginning of the 20th century, thanks to the famous fashion designers who offered a small bouquet to all their seamstresses on May 1st. The working population was inspired by this ritual and in 1907, they replaced the symbolic dog rose with the Lily of the valley.

FR On offre le Muguet, un rituel convivial qui remonte à la Renaissance quand le chevalier Louis de Girard de Maisonforte offre au jeune Charles IX offre en gage de bonheur, un brin de muguet cueilli dans son jardin. Au début du XXème siècle, la fleur devint la fleur traditionnelle de l’ile de France, quand le jour du 1er mai, les grands couturiers parisiens offraient un brin de muguet aux petites mains des ateliers comme un porte-bonheur. Inspirée par cette pratique, en 1907, la population ouvrière remplaça la fleur d’églantine par le brin de muguet à l’occasion de la fête du travail. Merci à #actuelflors pour ce joli bouquet parfumé.

Lavender Dreams

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Dreaming of lavender fields | Un rêve d’étendue de lavande.

  • Ipad lover. Serious Apple fan.
  • Pastiglie Leone sweets from Italy. I really love their packaging.
  • Ladurée macarons (duh!)
  • Belles Saisons (really cheap lavender cologne, available at Carrefour that smells amazing).
  • Le Petit Olivier Lavender Soap. What’s not to love here?
  • Light purple blouse from..?  It’s just the blouse that matters.
  • And yeah most importantly! Wild lavender that I’ve raided since I discovered it in my neighbourhood.

M O O D B O A R D : Black | Noir

black moodboardSunday just felt black. Not like black fatale but a crisp curious sensuous black. Some of my favorite things on the mood board are:

  • H&M Black Lace top, because I can never have enough lace.
  • Of course my baby, the Canon EOS 500D
  • My other Golden Baby, my Zorki B
  • The Colombian Supremo coffee from Hédiard. Très très bon!
  • If I’m not drinking tea or coffee, I’m probably drinking Roche Mazet’s Merlot ;)
  • My trusty Moleskine journal
  • My black italian coffee kettle which I purchased for 300 Rupees at Café Coffee Day in India. (Score!)
  • Beautiful books and beautiful book covers!
  • Cheap black bohemian jewellery.

M O O D B O A R D : Fruits

“Let today be the day…You pay attention to what you feed your mind, your body, and your life. Create a nourishing environment conducive to your growth and well-being today.” | “Faites qu’aujourd’hui soit le jour … Apportez de l’attention à la manière dont vous nourrissez votre corps, votre esprit et votre vie. Créez un environnement enrichissant propice à votre croissance et le bien-être aujourd’hui.”.

M O O D B O A R D : Wild Lavender

Recently, on one of my unemployed-wilderness walks, I found wild lavender growing in small shrubs. Firstly, finding any lavender in the North of France and in midsummer is amazing. Secondly, finding it a few blocks away from my house, is just the most epic thing to happen to me. 
I’ve been obsessed with lavender since I was a child. Since it’s a native of the Mediterranean region, it was impossible to find in Goa. However, women in my family managed to always find lavender products, mostly from Yardley; lavender soap, lavender essential oils, lavender potpourri, lavender talc, lavender perfume etc. But none of these products seemed natural to me. Even though their scent was peaceful, the packaging lovely, the colours appealing and our armoires pregnant with the scents of Provence, I never really fully embraced the lavender I grew up with. I was always curious to know what the real plant looked and felt like, and whether it had an actual scent or was the scent processed in factories the only one. 
As it turns out, in France, the lavender plant is pretty much a common thing. People use it like we would use coconut oil. I haven’t been to the South of France yet to see the lavender cultivated in fields. It was just a chance to stumble upon wild lavender near Paris. If it makes sense to say that romance has a colour, I’d like to say it’s lavender. Moreover, I put my doubts to rest, because the plant actually does have a delicate scent, better than the scent that’s packaged and sold. I couldn’t resist plucking some sprigs to bring home with me. Beware of bees in the shrubs, because they love lavender just as much as romantics do! What ensued at home, was a mood board with all the lavender coloured products I own :) 
I’ve brought home more lavender sprigs since my little discovery. I’ve put them in small sachets and use it like my personal organic aromatherapy. It’s strange that lavender is such an ordinary household article, but for me it remains one of the most unique goods I could own. Probably since I associate it with a part of myself I cherish. Every time there’s a light breeze, the fragile dried blossoms emit a faint familiar scent, and memories and olfaction get intertwined. Explained scientifically, my olfactory bulb is a member of my limbic system, better known as the brain’s emotional center. So according to science, it’s simply a process of association (olfactory input followed by emotional output. Voilà!). However, I’d like to add a transcendental experience to olfaction. How else can I explain being transported by the lavender, to that house on a hill, nestled in the woods, where the electricity went out every other night? While the rains poured on our red-tiled roof, around a kerosene lamp we’d gather and all I saw were three or sometimes four pairs of hands, crocheting away in the dark, perfectly and tirelessly. Unfazed by the heat and humidity, my mother’s voice would demand I recite the multiplication tables. Occasionally one pair of hands would clap in appreciation of my perfectly recited 12 times table, while another would sneak a toffee into my sweaty palm and another would dab my forehead with her lavender-perfumed kerchief. I’d slowly drift off to a humidity-dazed multiplication-frenzied folktale universe. 

Food Photography: Farm Foods

We discovered a local farm in our town by chance and here are the bio goodies we hauled in today. The “Ferme de Saint-Thibault Les Vignes” is a real treat for bio lovers. I hope you all have the chance someday, to try a heart shaped soft cheese, resting on a coulis of red berries. Yummy! The bio apple juice was quite delicious as well. This is our second visit to the farm and we’re not going to stop as long as they continue making the amazing cheese and yogurts :)
We’ve recently started integrating local and biofoods into the daily diet and turns out it isn’t as expensive as your supermarket chains want you to believe! A slice of divine ‘tome’ cheese, garlic and herb seasoned cheese, an assortment of yogurts, semolina pudding and fresh milk for 9,51 euros. It’s a small effort but worth supporting your local farmers. Cheers. 

The Instagram feed

I’ve had a hectic yet peaceful summery July. I’ve started using my Iphone 5s camera more often and network with other users on Instagram. I love Instagram for a gazillion reasons. As cheesy as this sounds, it gives me a reason everyday to believe in creativity, originality, style, passion and everything amazing that humans are capable of doing. It’s also a place where you find people find inspiration in others’ work, or just plain rip off their creations. But I guess imitation is the best form of flattery. My mum always said, people can steal your style but not your mind :) You can find my Instagram page here
Captured on my phone, this is the Meaux Cathedral. Construction on this gothic monument began in 1175 and finished in 1540. In the Little Prince, there is a sweet quote about cathedrals.


Un tas de pierres cesse d’être un tas de pierres, des qu’un seul homme le contemple avec, en lui, l’image d’une cathédrale.” 

“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”
~ Antoine de Saint-Expuéry

My absolute favourite film with the magical Audrey! 
“Reading dreams. That’s what started her walking down the road. Every day she’d walk a little further: a mile, and come home. Two miles, and come home. One day she just kept on.”
In mood for some Guerlain ;) I couldn’t afford this ridiculously expensive perfume, hence it just seemed natural someone would gift it to me :) Merci Monsieur S. 
Because yesterday’s roses deserve another chance. My local florist was going to chuck these away because they were “left-overs”. I couldn’t bear the thought of such pretty things meeting such a hopeless end! What’s that they say about beauty being in the eye of the beholder?
Or an artistic demise like these beauties..
Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them!
Wanderlust creeps up on me ever so often. Here’s the magnificent Saint Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest. I miss backpacking across Eastern Europe. It was once of the happiest trips I’ve ever made. Le sigh..  

Querido Portugal | Visiting Minho

Hello World. It’s been almost twenty days since we returned from a trip to sunny Portugal! We were so excited when our friends from the Minho region invited us to spend some time with their families. Two years ago, I had visited the North of Portugal with my mother. It was a beautiful trip albeit a very touristy one. This time round, I wanted to experience real Portuguese lifestyle. Of all the regions I have visited in Portugal, the North is by far the most historic and traditional one. If you’re looking to soak up the sun and relax by the pool/beach, the Algarve region in the south will seduce you. However if you’re looking for history, culture and tradition, the North it is!
 
Cabeceiras de Basto | Pedraça
 

Our friends live in Cabeceiras de Basto and Pedraça. Both counties are famous for their vineyards, linen, meats and natural beauty! June is a dazzling month for nature in the north. It’s the end of spring and break of summer. It’s cool enough for the sunflowers but too hot for the roses. The lush green and florals blend beautifully with the thousands of terraced sloping vineyards. 

I also must say, it’s the people that make a place, and the kindness of the people in Minho really knows no bounds. I knew the Portuguese were famous for their hospitality but honestly I was really not prepared to feel like I was visiting my family right at the onset. An average Portuguese salary is between 480 to 600 euros, so nearly three times less than the French or English salary. But they are so generous!! People we barely knew would pay for our meals in restaurants, welcome us into their homes, offer us food (the best food), homemade wine, let us have the best rooms with comfortable beds while they slept on the floor. We were so moved. It’s an amazing feeling to finally understand the meaning of a minha casa é a tua casa. I don’t think I could ever repay the hospitality and love that I felt in this fortnight. My biggest hope is that the entire Portuguese nation comes out of this damned economic crisis, because the Portuguese, they definitely deserve better!

Dinner for 17 :)

Other than the fantastic scenery, Cabeceiras also boasts of an amazing cathedral aka Mosteiro de S. Miguel de Refojos. Legend has it that Cabeceiras de Basto (Basto meaning *enough*) got it name from Hermigio Romarigues who protected the monastery and the town from the powerful Moors. After the fall of the Visigoth empire at the hands of the Moors, the invaders marched towards the monastery, however Romarigues vowed “Até ali, por S. Miguel, até ali, basto eu!” (Until now, Saint Miguel, until the next time, I am enough!). And sure enough, the Moors attacked the vulnerable monastery three times but fell miserably thanks to the mighty sword of Romarigues.

Courtesy: Flybasto
Today the Monastery boasts of important architectural and cultural value to the region, but it needs the attention of benefactors to help restore its exteriors and interiors. Atleast what we understood from our guide was that the people of Cabeceiras are trying to get the attention of UNESCO to fund the restoration work. We witnessed an amazing feat by approx 3000 child volunteers. You can see in the photo above, they all came together to give the monastery a “hug”. It’s was such a beautiful initiative to save a monument that’s filled with so much history and continues to be an important part of daily lives! UNESCO people, if you’re ever reading this, you have some work on your hands!
Mosteiro de S. Miguel de Refojos
Baroque interiors of the monastery.

 

Povoa de Varzim

Since 138 BC, Povoa de Varzim has remained an important fishing port in Northern Portugal. It’s also a well-known beach resort and even though it’s by the cool Atlantic ocean, there are many tourists who come by to enjoy the soft sands and sunny skies. I will never forget this place because here’s where I realized Sushi is not meant for me. Our friends and I went to a beachfront Sushi restaurant. The prices were amazing. All you can eat for ten euros! And sure enough, since we never find sushi at that price in France, we ate of sushi quota of the entire year in one meal. That night my body exploded. I never realized until that day that I could scare people off by just using their bathrooms but yeah, that happened. Lesson of the story: stick to local cuisine while travelling + don’t overeat even if the food is free. 

Cultural scenes depicted with traditional coloured tiles.

Portuguese people are really gifted with ceramic tile work. I spoke more in detail about Azulejos here. The tile work on display in Povoa de Varzim was a real treat. The traditional blue and white colours of the tiles synced well with the colours of the sea and the sky. Honestly, it’s such a pleasure to find that associations still invest in their artists, who in turn create such amazing art and it’s free to admire of course!

More Azulejos | Portuguese Tiles

 

Guimarães

There is a sign in this town that says “Aqui nasceu Portugal”, which means Portugal was born here. During the 12th century, the Portuguese sovereigns were grouped in this region, including Afonso I, the first Portuguese king. This eventually led to the official creation of Portuguese identity and the Portuguese language. The historical center of Guimarães (comprising of the medieval castle, the Palace of the Dukes of Bragança, etc) is a UNESCO heritage site. Today you can find a very vibrant city, steeped in history and filled with artists, museums, great restaurants, art galleries, and souvenir shops. No guesses why it was named European Culture Capital two years ago. 
Church of Senhor dos Passos, Guimarães.
Archer at the Ducal Palace
To immerse yourself into Portuguese history, you must visit the Paço do Duques de Bragança or Palace of the Dukes of Bragança. It’s a few metres away from the medieval castle and chapel. The castle is in ruins, so venture only of you like rubble. The chapel is really sober and you can visit if you like to see tombstones beneath your feet. The fee to enter the Palace is really minimal (about 5 euros) and really worth it! The castle was built between 1420 and 1422 by the first Duke of the Bragança House, Afonso I. The palace was inhabited only in the 15th century and was eventually abandoned and consequently ruined. In the beginning of the 20th century, thanks to political backing, the palace underwent an integral reconstitution, including the interior deco (furniture et al). Today it’s one of Portugal’s most visited monuments.

The thing that strikes you at first is the the gigantic size and details of the tapestries in nearly every grand salon. And secondly, if you’re a Game of Thrones fan like me, you’ll immediately be transported to a Westeros-like world. You can find grand salons with low chandeliers, tables and plates for giants, warfare items like swords, lances, spears and pole arms. To be honest, the entire decor looked authentic to me. However, according to the Palace’s website, most of the interior decoration is a replica and not necessarily medieval either. Due to time constraints and financial burdens to find exclusive medieval furniture, the commission decided to use replicas of different time periods. According to them, the replicas have the same “artistic merit and documentary value”. Well to be honest, if you’re not a medieval art specialist, the visit will not disappoint you.

Indo-Portuguese “artifacts” at the Palace.
Rua Santa Maria and Town Square
Charming bougainvillea!
Adding to the historical ambiance of Guimarães are her young and old artists. You’ll see them plonked on the cobblestone streets, sketching away. Sometimes they’re in large groups or sometimes alone. Seems like this city fits perfectly in history books and sketchbooks. 
 
Braga
Braga is the capital of Minho. This ancient city is important for Christians due to it’s strong links with the Church, dating back to the 3rd century. 
Bom Jésus de Monte Courtesy: Wikicommons
Situated high on a mountain in Braga, the Bom Jesus de Monte church is an impressive architectural gem. Other than a Christian shrine, the church is also world famous for it’s baroque architecture inside out. The staircase leading up to the church is an important point of interest. We mustered the courage to climb up to the church from the foot of the mountain, via the stairs. Took us a good half an hour. The view from the top is what makes it all worth it. If you’re a believer, then the effort also adds to the sanctity of the experience. There are 14 mini chapels depicting the stations of the cross and water fountains to ease your climb. Apparently there are pilgrims who go all the way up on their knees!
The Church, the gardens and the view of Braga = Spectacular!
Sanctuary of Sameiro
O Sameiro is a sanctuary a few minutes drive away from Bom Jésus de Monte. It’s famous because the last Pope, i.e John Paul II visited it in 1982 and it’s generally the next stop for pilgrims after Fatima. The interior decor of the church wasn’t very attractive. Outside, you find that the architect clearly played on the size of the structure to impress people rather than details. Most importantly, the view from here is the best in Braga. We just had to sit down and admire the spectacle at our feet. Also a good time to reflect on your speck of an existence in the larger scheme of things. 
 
Viana do Castelo
Locals devoted time and effort to create these religious floats with tiny grains and flower petals!
Viana de Castelo is a real treat for varied interests. On one hand, it seems like a très chic côte d’azur and on the other hand it holds onto a prized medieval centre. You know immediately that this is a “richer” region in the North mainly because of its historical port, naval construction, tourism, gold artisans, religiosity, etc. This city has something for everyone. Especially if you’re looking for the bolas de berlim, then you’ve come to the right place! OMG these desserts are just amazing, so fantastic that I will dedicate a separate post just for them. 
The Marina. Great for long walks on a sunny day.
Yacht beauties.
Vianense architecture.
Another historic square is the Praça da Republica. Nearly all the cafés, historical buildings and souvenir shops are grouped here. It’s also a great place to purchase Portuguese filigree jewellery. 
Santuario de Santa Luzia
This dominant shrine can be seen from almost every place in the Lima valley. The Basilica of Santa Luzia reminded me of another important church I had seen somewhere. I couldn’t place my finger on it until I read the plaque. The church was modelled after the Sacré coeur in Paris. Contrary to its appearance, the church dates back to the early 1900s. With the exception of an ornate altar, chandeliers and stained-glass windows, the interiors are almost bare. But it’s worth climbing up the hill or driving by car to appreciate the views of the valley and see the River Lima greet the Atlantic. 
Our hosts were very kind to take us to the Basilica in the morning and again at night. Just in front of the monument is a great viewpoint. The city’s personality is completely different at different times of the day and hence a photographer’s or chronicler’s delight. In the morning you see the calm Atlantic and the dreamy Lima valley below. In the evening, you see a vibrant black and gold phoenix come to life. True to its golden heritage, it seems like someone melted tons of gold and poured it into the Vianense arteries. 
 
Adeus Minho! 

Château de Chantilly: Hidden gem in Ile-de-France


Art, Architecture, Chandeliers, Theatre, Books, Parks, Hunting dogs, horses, swans or another world feel. If you like any of the afore mentioned things or all of them, then the Castle of Chantilly will not fail to charm you. Just 1 hour north of Paris, you can visit the last home of France’s kindest Duke, Henri D’Aumale. Why? He left his ENTIRE property to the French nation. Including all the 15,000 odd books dating to the medieval times and decades worth of art. And people should be able to consult the books for free :) The Condé Museum inside the Castle holds some of the world’s most priceless paintings. It’s highly recommended to pay for a guided visit if you want to see the magnificent private apartments of the Duke and Duchess. You can also appreciate the architectural gems for as long as you want, since the castle doesn’t attract as many tourists as it’s counterparts in Versailles and Vincennes. Put this place on your list of places to see before you die! You will not regret it! :) Promise.
Since the main hobby of Chantilly’s occupants was hunting, you can find lots of beautiful statues and paintings of hounds in different places in and around the castle.
Condé Museum
The Condé museum in Chantilly holds some fine masterpieces. It’s painting collection is the wealthiest in France after the Louvre. You can look for more details on the masterpieces here.

La Tribune
This art gallery is modeled after the Tribuna at the Uffizi in Florence. When you enter is multi-faceted room, you can discover painting of different genres. There are walls dedicated to the Renaissance, the XVIIth and XVIIIth century neoclassicism and romanticism. On the extreme left of my collage above you’ll find Vénus Anadyomène, a painting which belonged to the Duc’s older brother and which I really find intriguing. This painting by Ingres shows the birth of Venus and if you want to read more about the structure of the painting, then go here.  
The Chapel dedicated to Saint Louis

Les Grands Appartements:
Details from the Antechamber and Bedroom of Monsieur le Prince. Built c. 1720.
The Action Gallery or The Battle Gallery
The Monkey Room
The Monkey boudoir is definitely one of the most charming in the castle. According to the Castle’s sources the boudoir dates back to 1737. It’s covered with Christophe Huet murals of Monkeys and Chinese Maggots. The Monkey was apparently a very popular animal in the 18th century. The murals on the walls are extremely complex and it took the artist 15 years to complete his work, which is painted directly onto the woodwork.

Bold and Gold!

The Library:
This is my favorite place in the castle. I would love to be married here. Look at all these books! 
The Book Cabinet 
The Book Cabinet as it is called contains 19000 volumes, 1500 manuscripts and 17,500 prints. The oldest manuscripts dates back to the XIth century. The kind Duc of Aumale has given acces to the public to consult the books in the library and you can do so with permission from the curator. More details on the books here.
The Theatre Library
Another secret gem of Chantilly. You can visit the Theatre Library if you take the private guided visits. This library was built on the location of a private theatre. According to the Castle’s website, there are about 27,000 books here and has some of France’s oldest and most valuable books.

Les Petits Appartements:

Salon de Guise: Contains all family portraits.
Bedroom of the Duchess of Aumale.
Ceiling
This baby blue bedroom theme just took my breath away. Of all the furniture in the room, I loved the Queen’s canopy bed and the blue cradle. I told Monsieur S. if ever I have a child, this is the cradle I want! :) The bedroom is adorned with a very beautiful ceiling by N. Diaz de la Pena. Read here for more details.
Boudoir of the Duchess of Aumale
Purple is so gorgeous! Sigh!
The stunning purple of the Duchess’ boudoir and her Grohé Brothers piano are quite lust-worthy. According to the castle’s webpage, the boudoir was originally green but after her death, all the furniture and walls were covered in purple because purple is the colour of mourning!
Salon de Condé
This Red themed salon contains portraits of all the princes of Condé. There are 42 framed medallions on the wall, representing all the members of the House Bourbon-Condé. 

Bedroom of the Duc of Aumale with this spectacular desk.
Other beautiful details..
Beneath chandeliers.
Swan lake :) 
The Castle grounds
This was a really memorable day and I would love to go back again to Chantilly. They even have a equestrian show during certain months of the year. I have to mention how friendly and courteous the staff were. Whether it was in the restaurant, the boutique or during the guided visit, they were always very helpful to the tourists. 

We left Chantilly with our hearts filled with love for the Duc of Aumale who left this immense treasure to France. And not to forget our heads, giddy with the sight of gold and other luxuries :)

Valentine’s day


Since Monsieur S. is miles away, I decided why not take my mom for a nice Valentine’s day treat. We have a new Honda active bike and it’s super zippy for the Goan roads. We rode all the way to Panjim, had a lovely Goan lunch at Anoshka’s. So a typical Goan lunch includes the staple rice, curry and friend fish. I ordered a beef dish to taste as well. After lunch, we rode across the Mandovi bridge towards the little town of Reis Magos to visit the Reis Magos Fort.
This was my first time ever visiting the Reis Magos Fort. It has recently been renovated with the gracious help of The Helen Hamlyn Trust. It’s a shame that our Indian multi-millionaires couldn’t care less for art and architecture. The Reis Magos fort is Goa’s oldest fort. It was built between 1551-1554 by the Portuguese rulers. My mother last saw the fort in ruins and she was moved to see the new shining monument. I would recommend Goans and tourists to visit the place, not only for its history but also for the breathtaking views of the Arabian Sea.
The fort is also a museum and there is a permanent Mario Miranda exhibition in some halls. Moreover there are lecture halls that you can rent out for lectures, book releases etc. You can also rent the place for your wedding (which I frankly think will be the photo op of the century!)
It’s essential to spend some time around the monument to get a sense of the ocean and it’s importance to Reis Magos. It’s a shame that so many hotels and private colonies/clubs have cropped up around this fishing town and the waters are slowly being polluted. I wouldn’t recommend the area for swimming, just walks on the beach here. 

In the evenings, you’ll see fishermen, pulling their little boats to shore. Sometimes you find the odd trawler coming in with a catch. You can get a good bargain for a few kilos of fresh fish :)

The star of the village is of course the Reis Magos church. Built shortly after the completion of the fort, the church really comes to it full glory in the beginning of January. Every 6th of January, the town celebrates the Feast of the Three Kings. I sincerely wish they would keep the place open during the year for worshippers and admirers alike to get a gist of the interiors. According the the Goa Tourism website, the church holds the tombstones of two former Goan viceroys. One of them being Dom Luis de Ataide, known for his legendary defense skills. You can read more here in Portuguese if this character interests you.

The final sunset/dusk light on the way back from a tiring but eventful day.

2014. Hello.

It’s highly unfortunate that many people CHOOSE to stay in a rut, ceasing to learn, ceasing to grow, ceasing to challenge, ceasing to grasp their dreams and ceasing to believe that life is made of better and greater things. It’s shameful to consciously become insubstantial and eventually obsolete. Moving away from these people is the first step in learning, growing, challenging, dreaming.. Life goes on (in a better and greater way!) 2014. Ready.