Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Lesson #153: Circles are Hard to Do

I took a day off to go riding yesterday (left over vacation day--I thought I had none left!). The weather is freggin' freezing; looks like winter is well on its way. I still love getting out there during the day to ride though... morning or afternoon beats going out at night. Anyways, Ariel's been ridden during the jumper/hunter clinic already so we're not going to be doing anything too extenuating. Good thing for me because I need to sort out my issues with that 20m circle from Sunday.

Such a busy day today... clinic and then a lesson with Deb

So what do we do? We school the 20m circle after a trot and canter warm up. There aren't any issues at either gait during the warm up but into the 20m circle we go and things just aren't coming together properly. Ariel would fall in and the circle would spiral smaller without any success of more inside leg. J asked me to try a variety of exercises on the 20m circle, ranging from:
  • posting the inside hip towards the outside hand, just a little
  • dropping my inside hip and "polishing the saddle with my arse"
  • pulsating the inside leg but keeping the outside in case we drift outwards
  • spiral the trot circle in and then back out
As a continuation from the last lesson, I even peeked the at the outside of the circle at one corner again and again and Ariel would take that as an excuse to drift outwards and it would mean that my leg wasn't enough to push her back in. I do get a bit too handsy when things come last minute so I'll need to work on paying more attention to what's happening and using my legs (seat is even better) to redirect us.

Eventually Ariel just protests and says enough. She is rearing a bit and refusing to turn into the circle. Since she's had such a busy morning, it was likely the explanation to her fussing. Not one of my better lessons but not every lesson is going to be totally ah-may-zing. I still accomplished some of the things listed above so that's a success in my books!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Lesson #152: 20m 'Ugh'

J was teaching our lesson Sunday and we worked on jumping. I knew, that going in, I was tight in the hips and off kilter on the (surprise) right side. We started with a brief warm up and then got into a large canter. No trouble from Ariel and we went round and round at her pace *sigh* Sitting up was having some effect and she did slow down when I used my weight but then she would slow too much so I leaned off some and she sped up but sped up a little too much... finding that balance was really tricky. At one point, Ariel did a series of Tempi changes along the long side and I had no clue. After J pointed it out, I did realize that it seemed like her canter was a little more 'lofty' than usual but I didn't intentionally ask for it so that's... bad. Then again, since she's a sensitive mare and I'm physically a dud, it's possible that my hips were shifting just enough to ask her for the lead changes and since I've never done it before, I wouldn't have known. But more than likely, it was because I was unbalanced and she was just trying to sort out balance for both of us. *le sigh*

Seriously. What is Deb doing up there???

Since I complained about being tight, we did some non-stirrup work with leg stretches. I was laughing a storm when G had said that a few times stuff was cracking and things felt like they were out of the socket! HAHAHA! It was her birthday the day before so we made the joke that she's just gettin' old. Oh the jokes with this bunch of people.

We started simple courses on a figure 8 with 4 jumps at either horizontal or cross poles at the rising trot. There were two jumps on the long side and 2 more on an angle with 2 corners of the arena. With a lower level, jumping over things wasn't TOO bad. I made it over with a 50/50 success rate of good position. Then he added in an extra jump... a horizontal jump on a 20m circle. I figured it should be fine but O-M-G, it was as if it was all too much for my puny little brain to sort out! Coming in was fine but upon the approach, things just went to poop. My eyes would drop or I'd look to the outside of the circle. My body would also seize up because I was clearly freaking out about what I should be doing and with Ariel, she's been known to run straight into a wall if asked (fearless, this girl). Even at the trot that was hella scary for me to do and the more we drilled it, the worse it got. I have no idea what went wrong but I couldn't seemingly look far enough into the circle and get through the jump. Ariel isn't the problem, I am.

I finished the remainder of the course just fine but that 20m circle one just sent me reeling back into a prior state. I'm okay at 20m circles at canter or trot on the flat but the addition of obstacles clearly is a problem at this time. I wonder what I could do, to address that seemingly unreasonable problem. Maybe I'll need to do ground poles on the 20m circle like we did last time where they were put at a "cross" pattern...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Collections: Medieval and Religious

This is the conclusion to my Paris series and I write about visiting the Treasury of Notre Dame and the medieval museum, Musee national du Moyen Age (formerly Musee Cluny). Our last day doesn't give us a lot of time since we have to leave the following (late) morning so to keep things straight forward, we stick around the area within walking distance and head to the Musee Cluny for the famous "La dame a la licorne" (The Lady and the Unicorn) set of tapestries.

The 6th and best known tapestry of the series

The building is an example of surviving "civic architecture of Paris". It's undergone several uses and owners but it was Alexandre du Sommerard who amassed the medieval and Renaissance collection that is housed there now. The collection is quite extensive and in addition, the site on which the hôtel is built, is actually an archeological site itself: it was built on top of a Roman bath of Paris.

Still impressive: exterior garden... in the middle of the winter!

Before entering the building, take some time to check out the exterior because it's quite impressive and there is also a garden. Once you've paid for your fare, remember to ask where to get the free recorded guide sets. Then you set off into the museum at your pace and check out the numbered exhibits.

Lots of religious themes in gold...

The inside of the building is as visually appealing as the exterior, with an impressive hall and the Gothic style chapel. Granted, the most impressive is most certainly the Roman bath ruins where you step into a huge vast space that is not only horizontally expansive, but the ceilings are towering! I was breathless when I entered and saw the expanse of space with various artifacts dispersed throughout.

Stained glass from Sainte Chapelle

Vaulted Gothic ceilings of the chapel

Upon finishing up our tour of Muse Cluny, we visited the Treasury of Notre Dame. This area houses the fragments of the crucifix that King Louis IX (Saint Louis) brought to Paris as well as an apparent piece of the crown of thorns. The authenticity of these items is still questionable (even at his time) but they are displayed in grandeur in a small room of the cathedral. It's certainly an impressive sight of bejeweled religious artifacts. You won't spend a lot of time here but it's certainly worth checking out if you happen to have some time while you're at Notre Dame.

Not even too sure what this was but that large blue rock is a lapis lazuli

Friday, December 26, 2014

One Man's Trash is Another Man's Treasure

A return to the Paris series...

Clignancourt is home to the world's largest antiques market but to get there, you'll need to hold your breath and clutch your valuables close to you. This area is really quite iffy to the typical middle class North American traveller. It's on the outskirts of the romantic idealized Paris and most people would probably not even head out this way but we wanted to see the antiques market that attracts some of the wealthiest and most eclectic collectors in the world.

Some very strange and unusual things

It is exactly what you think it is. This store specializes in these!

First, you'll ride the metro out to the end of the line at Porte de Clignancourt. As preparation, should you decide to venture out this way, I would suggest you pack your cash in a cash belt for travelling and keep it close to your body and not let on where your funds are. I'd also suggest you not dress too fancy. We got out to meet a tour guide (which is highly recommended) to take us around. When you exit the station, you are greeted very enthusiastically by peddlers of (likely stolen) iPhones and other expensive smart phones and counterfeit (or stolen) high end watches/goods. Our guide provides us some background about the history of how these markets came into fruition and a little about the neighbourhood. There are many immigrants who live here in coop/government subsidized housing and you can tell it's not quite the same beautiful old architecture of the downtown Paris. The governments are trying to gentrify things but you know how thing like that are...

Many non-Parisians shop and ship things home!

We are initially led through a small temporary market of tents and tarps where people are selling cheap trinkets that are probably made overseas. Apparently many tourists don't get further (probably because they were nervous like I was!) and get sucked into these markets, thinking they're the real deal. Unfortunately for them, they are so ever wrong. The actual antique markets are further away and you need to keep going. There are several complexes of markets that have many vendors who carry things from Louis Vuitton travel trunks to vintage clothes and posters to antique furniture or old street lights or even small vehicles! I tell you, it's a sight to behold!!

One of the many complexes of vendors

We are led around a variety of markets and realize that we probably should have come out the first time to get acquainted and then return to see which places we wanted to narrow our searches down. Unfortunately for us, our planning wasn't as good as we wanted and we only had the opportunity to be introduced to the area.

All sorts of things!

In addition to the antiques market, this is the area where the French gypsy jazz, Jazz Manouche was born. Jazz Manouche is characterized by the lack of percusion instruments, brass or wood. The most common instruments are 2 guitars (one to keep the beat), bass and violin. It's a very eclectic sound that is unique and has the ability to bring you to a old time of Europe that I can't put my finger on. We visited a restaurant called La Chope de Puce where they had a live trio of 2 guitars and a violin play. For those music enthusiasts, you might know that this is the place the instigator of this music made it big... Django Reinhardt. It's most definitely worth checking out if you make your way out to the antiques market or even just to head out.

Learn Jazz Manouche

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Models: Buckingham, Stanley C. Panther
Wardrobe Consultant: me!
Photographer: me again!!
Meme Consultant: +ADW
Finished on Pixlr Express

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Best Wishes to Everyone!

Possibly my favourite online feline duo to date, Simon's cat and kitten.

From Stanley, Bucky, +ADW and me!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Moments Frozen

One of the most unique museum/gallery to visit in Paris is the Musee Rodin because it is not like others you'll visit... but it's probably most appealing during the spring and summer months because a large component is out in the garden. We got there in the dead of winter and it was most certainly not one of the most appealing experiences though very fruitful. We originally started with the intent to visit Musee D'Orsay but the line (at 4pm, which is 1 hour left!) was probably well over an hour wait.

It's rainy but we head into the garden

Le Penseur. The original is only about 2 feet tall

Auguste Rodin is a French sculptor who is considered the progenitor of modern sculpture. Although he was traditionally trained, his works deviate from the traditional "decorative, formulaic or highly thematic". As you've seen in this series so far, the French admire the Roman and Greek works very much but Rodin's sculptures depart from the traditional favourites of the French. Instead, he modelled the human body with realism. "Rodin was a naturalist, less concerned with monumental expression than with character and emotion. Departing with centuries of tradition, he turned away from the idealism of the Greeks, and the decorative beauty of the Baroque and neo-Baroque movements. His scultures emphasized the individual and the concreteness of flesh, and suggested motion through detailsed, textured surfaces, and the interplay of light and shadow." (Wikipedia). When you see his works, it feels like he's taken the model and frozen them in that moment of movement and emotion. That said, his pieces were nudes in varying postures and of both genders. His most notable works are The Thinker, The Gates of Hell, The Kiss and The Age of Bronze.

The Gates of Hell were meant to be the portal to a museum never built

The museum is the original Hotel Biron, an 18th-century townhouse and Rondin worked on the main floor during his later years. This move happened sometime following the 1900 World's Fair in Paris where he gained exposure from a pavilion of his artwork. As well, his income for his work increased at this point where many of his commissions were coming from private clients. Rodin himself has an interesting past and personal life but most certainly, he is best known for the work that comes from him skills as an artist.

The Thinker in the garden and the dome of Les Invalides in the background

The cost of checking out this museum and garden is quite modest too. In the summers, you could go for a very modest 2euros and stay in the gardens and stroll around.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Lesson #151: Return from Paris

I'm going to interrupt the Paris series to write about the return lesson on Sunday. I didn't mention it before but we have returned from Paris as of last Monday and been spending our time getting ourselves sorted out but I still have a couple more Paris related posts to finish up. And for those who are still trying to sort something out for Christmas for the equestrian in your life, check out +Laura's Christmas blog series "12 Days of (Horsey) Christmas".

We've been absent for 2 weeks so it's definitely one of those instances we take our time and gauge initially, where we are at. In the past, I've returned with stiff hips or lower back and it's proved to be problematic for a more intensive lesson. The lesson was done on the flat and we didn't even do ground poles. I focused on keeping Ariel in the corners and ensuring that she is supple enough to do the things I was asking of her. In addition, I was checking out where I was at in terms of physically. I returned with a funny torqued upper body (to left) and a funky tight right hip that has been feeling (for a few days now) like it needs to popped out and then back in.

Our rising trot was pretty good and my focus was keeping Ariel straight and deep in corners. At this speed, things are typically manageable. I even added in some sitting trot when I felt more comfortable with my balance and control. So far so good. Sheri then suggests that I move towards no stirrup work. Okay, I think, pull my feet out of the stirrups and dangle them. She adds "... now let's stretch and flex out those hips and lower back: lift your legs out and upwards off the saddle" so that there is a stretch in the inner thighs. Keep in mind, I'm still trotting. This is not easy! Argh. LOL. I get a few strides like this but when the contact with the seat is dramatically reduced, it is very noticeable that I don't have as good balance as I'd like!

Our trotting is good so Sheri pushes us to the canter--nothing fancy and just around, large. But this is much easier said than done! The left rein is okay... and manageable but once we get onto the right rein, things go to crap. I nudge and squeeze and push and pulse and all I get is a faster trot and a crappier seat and a major decrease in position. I am now bumbling around up there like a sack of potatoes. Eventually I get fed up and spur Ariel to get her hind in gear and it works. But she's leaning in and cutting corners! Pulsating with the inner leg is doing little good... all it seems to manage is to keep her from falling further in but I can't get her out far enough.

I go a few more rounds like this with all my might (my inner thighs are having me waddle today) and even have to pull her into a circle a few times... there was one successful step forward to have her cantering a 20m circle without falling in but I couldn't replicate it large. *sigh* To finish up the lesson, I do some suppling exercises like the leg yield at the walk. Best part? Sheri's gotten on her horse and is getting him to do some simple moves (that look freakin' amazing!) like the leg yield.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

French Extravagance

It's tough to designate a single highlight of our trip to Paris but visiting Versailles comes pretty close. +ADW booked a special tour of the king and queen apartments. Because much of the furniture is original (or of royal origin) in these locations, they limit the number of visitors to pass through. But, as I'm reminded very regularly, nothing is free; the cost of this tour is not only the monetary costly but we're expected to meet the tour guide and group in Paris for just before 8am and then we are transported to the city of Versailles. I don't do mornings. But nothing is regretted because when you arrive, the fog is lifting off the fields of the Palace of Versailles and you see riders on horseback coming towards you... we are told the French women's international equestrian team rides here. *swoon*

Anyways... the palace property is enormous. The site of the palace started out as a hunting lodge of the king and was small by royal standards (with 20 rooms!). In addition to the main palace, there are two smaller mini-palaces called Le Grand Trianon and Le Petit Trianon, complete with their own gardens alongside the larger gardens of the main palace. This palace was commissioned by King Louis XIV after moving out from the Louvre because he was getting sick of Paris; it was dirty and crowded and the streets were not easily navigated. It's said that Louis XIV built Versailles, Louis XV enjoyed Versailles and Louis XVI paid for it (he was beheaded during the French Revolution!).

The French monarchy was an absolute monarchy that meant that they were given absolute power over the state and only God could judge a king. Unions of kings and queens were based on political strategy and had nothing to do with love... kings had "favourites" because their unions lacked true love/choice. As well, absolute monarchy meant that God placed them there so they weren't perceived as normal humans with normal freedoms and rights. Their entire lives were spectacles for nobility. One of the reasons they had separate apartments was because from the moment they rose, to when they retired, they had an audience of their lives. That's right, they were put on display and had an audience upon wake and sleep.

The barrier between the King's bed and the audience is open

My favourite room is the Hall of Mirrors with 17 windows and 17 mirrors opposite; lined with Roman statues and other elaborate pieces.

We are the first to visit this morning

Similar to current times where rich men tend to get into gadgets and cars, the kings were into clocks and fine furniture that could take years to make. One of the king's desks took 9 years to craft.

This clock is still functional and is wound every 40 days

The main palace is extravagant and ornate in every sense of the word but when you get to the smaller palaces, they are often more modest (though who are we kidding? They're still really big compared to what most of us live in) in decor and size.

The most famous (or infamous?) queen to have lived at Versailles was Marie Antoinette. She was of Austrian decent and married King Louis XVI. She used Le Petit Trianon as an escape from her royal duties and life and only invited her very close inner circle... even the King could not visit without an invitation! Her unpopularity had a lot to do with the fact that she's Austrian and even more with her extravagance; we were told MA had her sheep dyed pink and the cows wore diamond earrings. To learn more about MA, check out the Wiki article about her.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

War and Cabaret

To add to the growing list of sites of Paris, we visited Les Invalides (officially L'Hôtel national des Invalides). This site is a complex of buildings that include the Arms Museum and the burial site for many French war heros, most notably Napoleon Bonaparte. Louis XIV started the project for the site as a place for old and unwell soldiers in 1670.

The museum is an impressive collection of various military pieces from different wars, piece types and periods. The suits of armour for both men and horses is impressive and there are many canons that line the walls of the court yard or hallways. It's definitely worth a visit to see all the artifacts they have on display. This was a really pleasant surprise considering we didn't realize there was all these artifacts and went to visit the tomb of Napoleon. Napoleon's tomb is a sight to behold... found in the dome portion of the complex, it is a huge red (quartzite) sarcophagus on a green (granite) base set in the center of the lower floor with a circular balcony on the ground floor.

The ceiling of the dome

Our evening continues in the Montmartre district when we visit Moulin Rouge. That's right! The source of the French can-can and cabaret. Dinner and a show is what we had in store for the evening. Photos and videos are forbidden by patrons so I didn't get a chance to take any but there's a video the establishment's put together about the show that they have currently going "Feerie". The hyperlink isn't available through youtube so here's another preview:

It's such a energetic show that is literally non-stop and complete with feathers, sequins and a dinner. Oh and miniature horses; 6 of them prance around the stage! Most certainly worth checking out if you've made the stop in Paris!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Two Paris Icons

I continue my trip in Paris while +Laura of Bit by Bit starts up our second version of the "12 Days of (Horsey) Christmas". We continue our excursion with two more Paris icons: the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. Each is situated far from the other in terms of areas of Paris (though all walkable). Relative to where we're staying (Latin Quarter), Notre Dame is a 5 minute walk on the Île de la Cité.

A selfie in front of Notre Dame and the advent wreath

Notre Dame is famous to have inspired other cathedrals/churches around the world and universities or otherwise. It is no surprise how it inspired others if you ever get the opportunity to see it in person. The building is the prime example of French Gothic architecture and uses the flying buttresses that are visible from the exterior. The area around the cathedral is buzzing with visitors taking pictures or just taking in the sight of the magnificent creation. To celebrate Christian Christmas, they've also put out a giant advent wreath with 2 candles lit.

The western facade of the exterior is amazing to see. Along the main frieze, the biblical kings of Judah are represented in lifelike size and underneath, are 3 entrance ways each framed with what looks like hands in prayer position over the arch.

*from Wikipedia

When you get a closer look at the details of the doorway, you'd be amazed at the amount of work that has been put into these doors and doorways:

The main doorway taken closer

The inside of the church is most definitely something to be marvelled at. I compared this visit to the one I made to London several years ago when I went to see West Minster and have to say that this is most certainly something to lay your eyes on--photos can do no justice to experiencing it in person. When we went, they were actually having mass which still happens to this day.

From here, we made our way on the Seine River for a boat cruise along the river and visited the most iconic figure in all of Paris: the Eiffel Tower. It's funny though... most of the places we've visited so far have all been part of Paris well before the Eiffel Tower, which was erected in 1889. However, it is the most recognized icon in all of Paris (and perhaps the world). From our 'base camp' window, I can only see the upper section and without the iconic first and second sections, it isn't as recognizable as the lower sections with their decorative arches.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Stained Glass of Sainte-Chapelle Opposite La Conciergerie's Dark Past

Did you know that among all the French kings, there was one who is canonized as a saint? King Louis IX of France was a devout Catholic and made a saint for his religious fervour during his reign.

He was crowned at the age of 12 and his mother, Blanche of Castile ruled the kingdom until his age of majority. Louis reformed and developed French royal justice in which the king alone is the supreme judge where one must appeal to seek amendment. More specifically, Louis' actions were inspired by his Christian values and he took to punishing actions such as gambling, blasphemy, interest-bearing loan and prostitution. He also bought relics of Christ for which he built the Sainte-Chapelle.

The first palace of the French kings was on the Ile de la Cite and included Sainte-Chapelle, Palais du Justice and La Conciergerie. There is a lot of history on this site alone with respect to other royal homes on this site etc but the current most significant point at this time is that these buildings are all that remain of the Gothic style buildings from the 13th century remaining.

The most notable facts that most people will know is that Saint-Chapelle is the most extensive stained glass collection from the 13th century still intact in the world and La Conciergerie is was the prison where Marie-Antoinette was held before she met the guillotine.

There is no picture that could do seeing these in person, any justice

There are 15 "sections" of stained glass windows which cover 600 square metres with two thirds still being original with each one being 15 metres tall. There is also the famous "rose window" that is absolutely stunning to see in person--unfortunately for us, it was not complete from its restoration. The chapel is made up of two levels, the lower level which is already impressive on its own with lots of bright colours on the walls and floors but wait until you get to the upper chapel and feel like you've just walked into a kaleidoscope. The colours and the images are a sight to behold.

The 'cloth' is even painted on
Not only are the windows as magnificent as you see above, but not a single inch of this impressive Gothic chapel doesn't have something adorning it to make it even more impressive. The walls are not left to their natural state but are painted in vibrant colours of blue, gold, red, green... Nothing is left to fade into the background here. You'll see that even the 'cloth' on the walls not not in fact actual cloth, but painted on to represent actual cloth.

The other pillars and columns are also adorned in gold and more colours and designs. A lot of this is restored following the French Revolution but nevertheless, an impressive treat for the eyes. Again, none of these photos do any real justice to what is witnessed in person. It is most definitely a sight that is worth putting down on your bucket list.

As I keep saying, nothing is left in its natural state... even the floors are adorned with images and designs in vibrant paint colours.

Would you believe it if I told you that these colours would be brighter in their hay-day? Apparently there is a good chance that the colours chosen to restore/recreate what is there now is actually less bright than they actually were, originally!

Now, moving onto La Conciergerie... the darker part of this large complex: the former prison that held many prisoners both famous and not. The largest surviving component of this building is the Hall of the Guards which is currently housing an exhibition in honour of Louis' 800th birthday. Unfortunately for you, because of this, I couldn't get a clear picture of the entire hall in its glory, I could only offer an off-shoot of the main hall...

This is all only a preview of what else we've been up to so far... Still to come? Notre Dame!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Jam Packed Culture Walk

An iconic visit to the much anticipated Louvre.

Excuse the construction...

I'm not a hard core art buff but when the art can embody not just the image, but a story and the history of a people, I get really excited. The Louvre is incredible in that way where not only is the art beautiful visually, but everything has a back story to it.

+ADW and I purchase a guided tour through City Wonders prior to our departure for the 3 main features of the Louvre: Winged Victory, Venus de Milo and the world famous Mona Lisa. As icing on this cake, our tour guide gives us a thorough look into the medieval past of the Parisian monarchy Louis XIV, as well as the ruins and history of the Louvre.

This was originally all under water!

The Louvre was a former royal home for the kings of France* until Louis XIV decided to move to Versailles (1682), and one of the lower sections of the main square is also home to the ruins of the original royal palace that was built more as a fortress than an actual royal home. We're taken through the moat of the tower and our guide floods us with much history of the past. Most online guides and books suggest tourists to stick around for 1-2 days; I feel like we got a very thorough tour in approximately 3 hours but again, I had specific objectives for this tour to be met and everything else was just bonus.

Her eyes do follow you around!

The Mona Lisa has her own wall in the middle of the hall, is protected in a glass casing and a short metal gate circling the image itself. Most surprisingly it is small for its status but we learn the story behind her fame: it was stolen in 1911 by a restorer who literally walked out of the Louvre with the painting in hand. He only got caught for it later, when he tried to sell it.

One of the wings is not original...

The Winged Victory of Samothrace is one of the most celebrated sculptures in the world from the Greco-Roman era. It also serves as inspiration for the most iconic athletic brands to date: Nike. The wings of the statue are the source of the image of the check of the Nike swoosh. Prior to the glass pyramid entrance, the Winged Victory greeted all visitors coming to the museum.

Venus, goddess of love and beauty

The Venus de Milo is a Greek sculpture that depicts Aphrodite/Venus--the goddess of love and beauty. We learn that the statue is two separate pieces that shifted recently during a travel to Japan. Many statues of the time were made in pieces and then fitted together with a large metal rod inside the body.

Surprisingly for me, the French were enamoured with Greek and Roman mythology and used it to represent their own strength, courage, virility, passions... etc. Logically, there is a large Greek and Roman collection within the Louvre. The piece that is both a surprise and my favourite piece is Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss ("the Kiss"). The sculpture is so elegantly made, to show the story where Psyche is poisoned (by her own fault) from a task that Aphrodite tasked her with so that Psyche could remain with her husband, Cupid.

If you check out the rest of the sculpture, you'll see the entire story depicted in this one piece--amazing

Another thing that really brought out the liveliness of the museum was that aspiring artists could be granted permission to recreate (not exactly) a piece of the existing collection within the museum. It was incredible to be inspired by the work that seemingly normal people could reproduce.

She's capturing the image on the left

Upon leaving, we wander some more and check out the Palais Royale, Palais Garnier and the Galeries Lafayette. For those theatre geeks, you might recognize the mention of the Palais Garnier because this is the most famous opera house in the world due to the use of it as the setting for the Phantom of the Opera. We didn't get a chance to head inside since it takes the last visitors by 4:30pm and it was after 5pm when we arrived.

This is a lot, you say? We totally didn't stop there. We continued our way to visit the Christmas market along Champs-Élysées--one of the most fashionable streets in the world then walked the entire street to meet the Arc de triomphe. This arc honours those who fought and died for France during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

To top things off, we checked out the Fontaines de la Concorde and the obelisque that accompanies it then made our way back to 'base camp'.

*actually, this whole royal (and noble) residence business is pretty complicated and there are a few other locations in the city...

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Le Flâneur for a Day

What a first day. We took a red eye flight into Paris that left Toronto around 7pm. Red eye flights are such a toss up... if you can sleep through the flight, then you're ready to go for the day on arrival, but if you can't, it's a huge struggle to get through the day without wanting to take a nap. I'm getting older and am finding that the former is becoming more elusive.

Upon landing in Charles de Gaulle, we take the metro into the main city and locate our "base camp" for the week. We're staying in the Latin Quarter where many tourists and young people reside. So far, it's a nice area of the city that we haven't had much opportunity to truly explore; that, and the fact that none of these darn roads are oriented in any formal fashion! Paris is basically built on a strange informal snail shape.

What we did get up to today (after a much needed nap) was heading out to the Marche Bastille. Unfortunately for us, it was closing by the time we arrived :( But, we have another Sunday to visit so plenty of time for that. The location we're at is SO close to everything... the walk to the River Seine is just minutes away and we can see Notre Dame upon arrival at Ile de la cite.

Night time Notre Dame and River Seine
Wandering the city also led us to visit a sweets shoppe (Maison George Larnicol) that makes chocolate (figures), candies, macarons and kouignettes (a french pastry made of (you guessed it!) butter). They have so many of these things on display that I couldn't help but snap a bunch of photos of the beautiful works of edible art.

A rainbow of macaroons!

Kouignettes--I haven't tried these yet but they say they melt in your mouth

Chocolate figures *mew*
We spent the day wandering around like locals do (they call them le flâneur) and walk around with our smart phones and a guide book in our pockets. We ended up visiting Museum Carnavalet, which is the museum of Paris' history from the prehistoric to modern day which is eye opening to see the way the people of the area changed and progressed. In addition, we visited the La Marais area Victor Hugo (author of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame) had lived during the 1800s, in the 3rd arrondisement. Within, we also visited the square Place de Vosges

Place de Vosges is beautiful in green in the summers but still beautiful in the winter
La Marais is meant to bring visitors back to a medieval Paris where the wealthy lived before Napoleon came to power. The area is lively and home to some of the most stunning architecture I've ever seen. Having done so much during an unplanned day, we found ourselves completely exhausted by the time we returned to base camp and are glad that we called it a short night. Onwards to the Louvre tomorrow!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Bon Voyage!

I'm writing this from the airport because... I'm heading out for a (much needed) 10 day vacation with +ADW! We're heading to the one of the oldest cities... it's also one of the most traveled cities in the world... we're going to PARIS (France, not Ontario... just to be clear :P). I've been behind with my posts but that's okay because I've been frantically pulling myself together for this trip and getting things I needed to get done, done so I can leave with a clear mind knowing that I've prepared and accomplished the things I needed to do.

I've never traveled during the month of December and remember when all the kids would go away for family vacations while I stuck around. I've only been UBER excited about this trip the moment I booked the flight (4-6 weeks ago) and the moment I sat down at the DAVIDsTEA counter in terminal 3 while listening to the Christmas tunes play joyfully in the background.

What do I have planned? To give you a preview of what we're up to, I'm going to adding to my UNESCO list when I visit the Palace of Versailles and the River Seine (which is kinda all of Paris)! Of course we'll be doing the standard Parisian tourist list of la Tour Eiffel, Sacre-Coeur, Notre-Dame, the Catacomes, Louvre... and hopefully I'll have the opportunity to keep you posted about what we get up to because let's face it, Paris is the perfect city to get lost during Christmas :)

See you soon!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Lesson #152: Leaning Into the Jump

I just wanted to put it out there that +ADW and I were part of the Erin Santa Claus parade over the weekend! I'll put together a post for that later this week but for now, I'm going to focus on the details of the lesson on Sunday.

Something new for this lesson though: new stirrup irons. I've used those quick release type that are closed with an elastic and the standard metal ones that aren't fancy in any fashion. But Sunday's lesson had new irons... flexible jointed stirrup irons. I read a forum thread about these and it looks like mixed reviews from riders of all ages. The intent is to create more flexibility and comfort in your ankles and knees and help bring the heels down more. I found that it didn't maintain stability in my ride and I even had to take the stirrups up 2 holes. That said though, it's only 1 ride so far so it's not really indicative of how I'll actually ride in them as I use them more.

We had a brief warm up that wasn't particularly intense that let us just move around the arena and limber up some. We were riding with one of the advanced students in the class because she was school a newer pony over fences. Watching her ride over fences (even bitty ones) is amazing b/c everything flows for her. *sigh* If only one day... but let's come back down to Earth for a minute here: she rides 5-6 times a week and has been riding since she was a tot and has worked several different ponies and horses--some which have been particularly challenging mounts.

There are advantages to being that moody mare..

We work on the same course work as the last lesson and Ariel is fighting me around corners and just giving me a mouthful of disagreements. Again, the right rein isn't quite right and I find myself really struggling to keep her straight and on the rail. When we got into the jumps, my problem was being pointed out to me that my leg slips back... as if I'm taking a jump myself! The difference from this lesson's jumps versus the last is that these jumps were horizontals (though low) and I find myself really over thinking things with these jumps more. Instead of pushing back with my hips and folding there, I find myself jumping the jump too.

I do have a few good ones but when I get anxious to anticipate something, I do just that: I find myself leaning forward into the jump as Ariel is taking off. I am using new stirrup irons but that might be the explanation for me to notice that I need to fold at the hip... and not worry that I'll be left behind.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lesson #151: Rushing the Fence

My Thursday night lesson included +ADW too, which was really nice. Similar to the usual plan, the start of the lesson is shared with two other adults who ride only flat work, with a focus on dressage exercises. While they're getting into their lesson, I'm warming up. Our warm up was focused on posting trot with varying tempos. Long, relaxed and low; to a lively working trot. Our aims were to come down with a gentle "sit" and not to do too much "thrusting" with our hips while keeping the rising flowing. It's definitely a feel thing.

Ariel was in the lesson before mine so she was warmed up but giving me trouble on the right rein. I am sure it had mostly to do with my crookedness. The left rein was fine and flowed wonderfully. But once we got onto the right side, she was falling in and cutting corners. I was certain that it had to do with my wonky shoulder and tight hip. Since Ariel is a really sensitive mare, small imbalances become magnified and I have to work doubly hard to keep her (and me!) in line. So, when we were told to get into the canter on the right rein, I knew I had my work cut out for me.

Hi, I'm Molson. I'm trying a new 'thing' with my hair. What do you think?

The right rein was definitely a lot of opinionated Ariel and uncomfortable me going round and round. I want to say "I get it, Ariel! I'm twisted one way but you gotta work with me here." After getting around a few times with me working mega hard to keep her in check, despite my crookedness, we move to working on jumps and course work.

The course work is tough. They are low X jumps but keeping in alignment with the jump upon approach and not getting ahead of yourself is a challenge. I found myself going through the exercise at the trot to be okay... but I did struggle to get the position right, going over the jumps and being sure that I didn't fall behind. The jumps are lined up along the middle of the arena along the long side but at alternating angles from one another--a very shallow zigzag.

I found my biggest issues were that I, not Ariel, was rushing the fences. I would approach the fence and find myself getting ready for it by leaning in and almost "superman-ing" over the thing as opposed to two pointing it. This causes a series of problems with the position, ranging from bad distance to poor balance over the jump. There was even an instance where Ariel took the jump way too long and I was leaning forward way too much and she had to stick in a half canter step to get both of us over the jump so that I wouldn't land on the ground in front of her. It was bumpy for me and probably equally unpleasant for her.

All in all, I enjoyed the fast pace of doing this type of course work where we just went one after the other and did several jumps in sequence.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Review: Salt: A World History

Salt is generally associated with the table salt kind for most of us folk (NaCl, to be exact). And that association may get mixed reactions. Salt's reputation has undergone a range from positive to negative. Most of us take salt for granted and have limited exposure to its history and its variety or even the scientific definition of what a "salt" is. This book looks at salt and its most basic relationships with us humans its effect on human history.

I'll never forget my intro to macroeconomics class at UW with Larry Smith. The moment in particular that sticks vividly in my memory is when he talks about the value that people place in the pieces of paper and metal we call "money"; it's the illusion of value that we place on these items that gives them significance. The fact that 'money' gives us leverage to obtain the things that we want/need, is the source of power that these paper and little metal pieces hold over us. Logically, things that are not critical to life or are abundant and easily attainable, have a lower value than that which is critical to life. The good ol' concept of "supply and demand" varies on products or services so a currency is established to bring things to a "standard". These days, we (North Americans) generally don't trade or barter but create value in the bills and coins that become our currency to obtain things (it's a bit more complicated than that but that's the jist of it).

Our omnipotent friends Supply and Demand

All animals require some salt in their diet; herbivores require much more than carnivores as carnivores obtain much of the salt from their diets. In addition, size of the animal and the climate will also affect the needed salt intake. Specifically for humans, we not only ingest salt as part of a biological need but we used it to preserve our food, grow our crops and livestock. The average human requires 1,500-3,200 mg of sodium (3/4 teaspoon - 1 teaspoon) of salt a day (many of us get way more but that's a whole other story). There are two primary needs of salt, from our bodies: nerve and muscular function (hello, high school science!).

You can see, that it's necessary that humans consume salt, at the very least, in order to function. Which is why I think the book has a great deal of significance for us to understand our historical (and current) relationship with salt.

There is a vast amount of information concerning salt available. To present it in a manner that is both comprehensive and comprehensible, Kurlansky has to amass all the information and then distil, filter and rearrange it in a manner that makes sense to a reader. He walks the reader through the history, starting from the earliest available, to the current. But it isn't a simple dump of incidents. He makes it very complete by adding in specific excerpts and images concerning the topic and takes us around the world to different civilizations. I found the organization to be logical and effective. However, some parts of the written pieces felt forced and too dry--it was as if he was missing the segue of content from one place to the next.

Overall, I'd say that the read was enlightening but I would have been happier reading this type of (reference-y) book through a physical book rather than an e-book.