“I travel not to escape life…

IMG_4115.jpg…but so that life does not escape me.”  Someone much wiser than me expressed those sentiments.  I share her philosophy; I travel so that I can continue to thrive.  And if there happens to be a knitting festival in the area – that’s a bonus!

Fanø, a small Danish island in the North Sea, is an easy train journey from Copenhagen. Riding the 15-minute ferry over from Esbjerg, I could see why the island attracts so many vacationers from Germany and Denmark who rent homes along the sandy stretch of beach along the west coast.  Although seals, sea otters, and migratory birds draw nature lovers to the island; during one woolfull weekend in September, over 12,000 knitters descend on the World Heritage site to learn new skills and peruse all things fiber related.IMG_4120.jpg

Christel Seyfarth, a fiber artist born on the island, is the brains behind the Fanø wool festival.  Her bright shop hums with the whirling winders that skein up colorful cones of fibers destined for the beautiful knitting kits and garments sold in the store.  If you’re a Fair Isle knitter, you will be overcome with inspiration (and temptation) in her boutique.

While our non-knitter companions took advantage of the island’s other attraction,

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we knitters focused on touching new fibers, trying on samples and chatting with friendly vendors.

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I was really excited to see that Nordiske Masker was there.  I first met them several years ago at the  Faroe Island Knitting Festival.   At that festival, I fell in love with their asymmetrical motorcycle jacket finished with copper zippers and, even though I do not speak or understand Danish, I purchased a kit.  I figured google translate would come to my rescue.  Fortunately, the wonderful Ravelry community of Danish-speaking knitters helped me tremendously and I managed to knit the jacket.  Although I finished my jacket without the additional attachments, whenever I wear it, people ask me where I purchased it.  After I answer “I made it.” I enjoy seeing the look of surprise on their faces. All knitters or artisans who create with their hands can probably relate to how great it feels to say that.

IMG_4080.jpgIn Fanø, I noticed that Nordiske Masker’s kits are still only available in Danish, but even if you do not understand Danish, I highly recommend their kits.  Beautiful designs and luxurious natural fibers await you.  One of my friends purchased the same jacket kit I knitted.  She needs me to help her with hers; I hope I can find my old notes and recall what I did.  Although I wanted to purchase one of their new tunic kits, I found the small size a tad too big for me.  If I were a more advanced knitter, I could probably decrease the size, but the thought of modifying a pattern that is already in a foreign language requires more effort than I was willing to commit.  I wish more designers would consider the smaller-sized knitters when they write patterns only in small, medium and large.  This seems to be the norm with Scandinavian designs, but we knitters do not all fit into just one of three generic sizes.

The vendor that attracted me the most and to whom I returned each day was g-uld, a Danish plant-based hand dyer.  You can see some of their natural colors below. I think the woman’s sweater may have been knitted with their yarn. Doesn’t her sweater seem to match the skeins on the middle shelf?

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I made my own kits for several of their shawls (the green-gold color was screaming my name).  Chatting with one of their friendly helpers whilst paying for my purchases, I learned that G-uld will be participating in the Oslo Knitting Festival in October. Hmmm…I wonder what my schedule looks like in October…Could I finish this shawl by then?

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What I enjoy about traveling to knitting festivals, aside from the obvious “yarn porn”, is the opportunity to connect with other fiber folks and to share our passion for all things fiber related.  Whether it’s chatting with a Danish gentleman from Roskilde who sold me some beautiful Japanese bamboo knitting needles (not that I need more knitting needles) or chatting with Di Gilpin about her soft Scottish lambswool or her cute Coda hat, which I plan to knit, there’s always plenty of incredible inspiration, oodles of ooh-ing and ahhing, and something new to learn.

On this trip, I learned that all Danes speak perfect English, even if they confess that they don’t (however, I wish more Danish designers would translate their patterns into English). They knit with beautiful, natural fibers rather than the ubiquitous ‘superwash’ (acid-killed) yarns that knitters in other lands prefer.  The Danish designers sell their patterns in kits or books rather than on Ravelry or as single patterns.  And the Danes seem to love David Hasselhoff.  Another knitter? Am I the only person who didn’t know this?

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A walk through the 18th leads me to an interesting discovery…

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Because Paris is best experienced on foot and because it was a picture perfect day in August – sunny, warm and balmy – I set out towards Batignolles, an area I had not yet walked.  Using my starred places on Google maps as a walking guide, I meandered up Rue Legendre.

In August, Paris shuts down as most residents head to Brittany or southern France.  The proprietors of my starred locations were no different.  Either their entire facades were barricaded shut or, if they had no such barricades, a white piece of paper handwritten with the words “Fermé…Bonnes Vacances…Septembre…” greeted me at every potential pitstop.  My heart sank as I realized I must wait until September to peruse any cool, local places.  Although it was not yet 10 am, the only shops opened were the liquor/alcohol shops and the ubiquitous boulangeries.  I peered into each bakery, hoping to catch something that would shout “Eat me!”, but none did.   Everything looked uninspiring; things I could easily buy at the Monoprix or some other chain shop.

I took a left onto the small Rue Lamandé avoiding the mines of dog shit littered every couple meters.  Walking up this street, I was surprised to see “École Polonaise”.  What are the odds that I would arrive from Warsaw and then a few days later randomly walk by a Polish school near my Paris flat?  Was this a hidden message from my Polish teachers reminding me to return to my Polish studies instead of jumping ship to French lessons? As this thought distracted me for a moment, I almost stepped on another mound of dog shit.  Merde!  Aside from all the positives of Parisian life, dog shit dropped on every Parisian sidewalk is definitely my top dislike about Paris.  Dare I say “hate”.

Dear Madame Hidalgo, as part of your Paris Respire, please please please rid this magnificent city of dog shit.  Would you allow your son to take a dump on the sidewalk and leave it there? No, I didn’t think so.  Is it better to let him and his friends step in dogshit whenever they leave the home and then track it into their schools or even into your home?  Think of all the extra revenue the city could earn by enforcing fantastic fines for dog owners or dog walkers who do not pick up after their pets.  You could hire a talented 20-something femme to develop an app so that citizens can take photos of polluters who do not ‘pick up’ and then post them on an online “Wanted” site with a hashtag #sidewalkshitters. Singapore, in its infancy, had a similar problem with chewing gum pestering pedestrians on the sidewalks.  The country started imposing fines and now it’s one of the cleanest countries on the planet, not quite as clean as Japan, but definitely cleaner than France.

Back to my walk…As I continued down Rue Truffaut, I saw a man cross over suddenly from the other side of the street.  As the street was pretty deserted, I could not help but notice him and when our eyes met, I smiled.  He returned my smile, stepped several meters in front of me and continued his journey.  I thought to myself, “Oh, how wonderful; the French are so much nicer and friendlier than the Germans. Usually, when I smile at someone in Germany, they just stare at me or seem to narrow their eyes in suspicion.  Because I am a relatively petite-framed frau, I do not understand why anyone, especially the Germans, who usually tower over me, would fear me.

Passing more closed storefronts, I took note of a few finds, albeit shut, that I had not marked on my map: an atelier, small hole-in-the-wall restaurants, a few wine bar, all the usual suspects that catch my attention.  Trying to register their locations on my mental map, while keeping vigilant of and avoiding the dog shit mines under mes petits pieds, I did not notice the man who kept turning and looking at me.  If it had been 10 pm instead of 10 am, I probably would have been more vigilant on a quiet street.  But it was the late morning and I had nothing to fear, or so I thought.

Soon I passed Hotel de Police, which I thought was a big, ugly hotel for tour groups.  My assumption was based on the HOTEL sign framing the front of the institutional facade. Then I realized that it was followed by “de Police”.  While my brain was busy marveling at the strangeness of police hotels in France, I did not notice that the man had slowed down his pace considerably and was now so close to me that if I so wanted, I could have lifted my hands and rested them on his shoulders, which I obviously did not do.   In order to create more personal space between us, I slowed down, expecting that we would separate, but he somehow seemed to sense my reaction and he slowed down as well.  Suddenly, I started to feel very self-conscious. Uh, what’s going on here?  I looked around me but we were the only two on the street except for two security personnel in front of the Police Hotel.

Before I could cross the street and pretend I was heading to the hotel, the man turned and asked “Pardon. Est-ce que vous êtes chinoise?”  My immediate response was “Nein, ich bin nicht chinesisch.”.  It was out of my mouth before I could swallow it back.  Then I started to sputter “Nie, nie jestem…”, before realizing my brain was bringing up the wrong foreign words. Argghhh…I finally found my French words and sputtered  “Non. Non, je ne suis pas chinoise.”  He seemed surprised by my answer.  I added, “Je suis désolé. Je suis américaine.”  Now, he looked genuinely disappointed and asked, “Parlez vous chinois?” “Non,” I explained.” Je ne parle pas chinois. Je parle anglais , allemand et aussi un peu japonais…mais…”  Now, he looked intrigued but embarrassed.  He explained “J’apprends le chinois.  J’ai pensais que vous..”  I thought about asking him why he was learning Chinese, but then realized I didn’t want to get into a conversation with a stranger on a deserted street in Paris about why he thought I spoke Chinese.  I wondered how many people he accosted on the streets of Paris to see if they also spoke Chinese.  In hindsight, I should have recommended that he visit Gallerie Lafayette, whose staff all seem to speak perfect Mandarin to the mostly Mandarin-speaking clientele who now shop there.  How things have changed since my last visit to Gallerie Lafayette in the ’90’s…But instead, I bit my tongue and remained silent. He walked next to me for a bit and then smiled, wished me a “Bonne journée!” and crossed back over to the other side of the road.

IMG_3418.JPGUnsettled by the unexpected encounter, I continued my walk, past the Hotel de Police, which I now realize is a police station and not a hotel for police officers, up rue des Dames, which was filled with cute but closed cafes and storefronts, and up to a walled garden, or so I thought.  I looked on my phone and realized I was at Montmartre Cemetery, but not in Montmartre Cemetery.  Hoping that an entrance to the cemetery was not too far away, I elected to walk clockwise around the cemetery wall and headed down rue Ganneron. I assumed an entrance would appear just around the bend.  Unfortunately, my assumption was wrong; all that awaited me was street construction and blocked sidewalks.  Whilst keeping an eye on the sidewalk in front for you know what, I gazed up at the old mansions, many turned into flats, some looking as if they were still occupied by a single family.  There were some modern builds but most of the beautiful buildings and interesting architecture were from a different time, a time that has long since been forgotten.

Simone de Beauvoir came to my thoughts then.  I wondered if she and Sartre had walked these same streets when they were living in Paris. I wondered if she had called any of the houses home.  My thoughts about her and her writings distracted me from the cemetery and soon I was walking up rue Lamarck.  My google maps showed a starred location on that street so I kept my fingers crossed and headed in that direction.  Sadly, they were also fermé.  Merde!

By now I had given up hope that anything worthwhile would be open. I walked away from the main streets and looked for a small restaurant or cafe that might be a good stop for lunch. I did not have to go far to find a tiny pizzeria on a corner that was, surprise, surprise, opened!  I ordered a glass of Prosecco and their pizza of the day and opened up a book of Rumi poems.

As soon as I saw my pizza, I knew I should have ordered the pasta.  The toppings on my pizza had too much liquid in them and now all that liquid was making my crispy pizza soggy.  I dislike soggy pizza.  I had ordered the pizza because it included truffle oil. Silly me.  Now I realized, too late, that I should have read more carefully the other ingredients on the pizza.  But I was not going to let a soggy pizza ruin my lunch or beautiful day.  The glass of Prosecco and the friendly Italian service certainly helped ease my disappointment.

Not having any other destinations in mind, I started to walk again and soon came upon a bunch of staircases leading up higher and higher from street level. I had no idea where the stairs would lead to but, figuring that it might offer me a nice view to the other side of Paris, I started climbing.  It was an easy climb getting away from the stree noise below. Descending in the opposite direction were joggers, runners and even an enthusiastic bicyclist, who raced as if he were competing in the tour de France. It’s not often that I see a bicyclist charging down a set of stairs.  Apparently, I wasn’t alone. Two men, sitting on the stairs, chuckled and shooked their heads as the bicyclist wheezed by them.  I assume they must have been thinking, “Crazy f#58ken rider!” That’s what I was thinking as well.  I turned to see the bicyclist’s lycra shorts getting smaller and smaller until he reached the street below and cycled out of sight.  I returned to my climb.

Near the middle of my ascent, a mother descended carrying her stroller and child.  I quickened my pace to see if she needed any help but before I could reach her, she turned into the landing of one of the apartments flanking the sides of the stairs.  The pitfalls of living in such a beautiful city center- you can not just pull your car into the garage and wheel your stroller into the house. I continued to climb, past more people, past more intermediary landings, past more joggers sprinting down. Even when I was younger and running and climbing mountains regularly, I hated going downhill.  If I could have arranged a helicopter to meet me at the top of the mountain and transport me back down, I would have done it.  My enjoyment and thrill still remain in the ascent rather than the descent. Even in Paris and in my old age, I still preferred the same.

Near the top, I looked up and thought (and perhaps exclaimed), “Shit!  Large groups of people were milling around rotating postcard stands, scarfs and other sundries were flapping in the breeze and all the storefronts were open for business.   “Damn.” I thought. “I must be close to a tourist attraction.”  I searched through my bag for my phone, opened up Google maps and then realized where I was nearing.  I suppose I could have turned back at this point, but as I mentioned earlier, I dislike going back down.  I continued onward, past the hawkers trying to sell me their wares, past the artists who offered to paint my portrait, past the tide of tourists taking a selfie, laughing at a funny t-shirt or looking like they needed to take a bathroom break.

The beautiful sounds of O Mio Babbino Caro called to me and I followed it to a large, gowned woman standing on the steps of Sacré Coeur singing to her adoring fans.  Through her voice, I forgot about all the tourists around me, all the litter, all the chaos, all the screaming children, the scolding parents, the shouting vendors. I felt like I was alone on that elevated Basilica mound.  But as soon as she stopped singing, the noisy world returned.  Admittedly, I could not have chosen a more picture perfect day to stumble upon Sacré Coeur. Clear blue skies contrasting the whiteness of its structural stones would be the envy of anyone suffering in a less picture-perfect place.  I made a mental note to return again, perhaps when it’s outside the tourist times.

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From there I meandered slowly through the zigzag paths to street level at Place St. Pierre. I took a left and walked away from the crowds, or so I thought.

Not too far from the mayhem of Sacré Coeur, I discovered a small area with back to back fabric shops.  And most were open for business!  One, in particular, seemed to be having a glorious sale as evidenced by the crowds of shoppers lunging for assorted “coupons” (cuttings) on the enormous display tables.  Of course, I had to investigate.  And that’s how I chanced upon Tissus Reine.

What I liked immediately about the shop was the open and friendly service. Whenever I happened to make eye contact with a salesperson, they were quick to approach and ask if I needed help.  When one saleswoman could not answer my question regarding the type of the fabric I was holding, she announced that she would ask her colleague.  We walked over to him together and he quickly identified the fabric for us.  Refreshing service!  On the first floor, they also had a small selection of Liberty prints, many of which I already knew.  But it was nice to discover to such a healthy selection of Liberty prints in Paris.  After touching, feeling and oohing over much of the fabric on the ground floor, I climbed the stairs to the first floor, which was mostly notions, decorative household fabrics and a pattern section in the back.  Unfortunately, the pattern section was closed for lunch so I was unable to look through the Vogue, Butterick, Burda or Simplicity pattern books.  But I made a note of their opening hours and planned another visit. I did not venture up to the 2nd and 3rd floors, but surely more fabrics await there as well.

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My next visit to that area yielded more finds in terms of patterns, fabrics, and notions. Previously, I had had no plans to sew, but all those fabulous fabric shops have enticed me to reignite a long lost hobby.  The difficulty now is trying to decide what to sew first…

 

 

 

Fancy dressing Angels?

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When I saw the long line of people wrapped around the block, I naturally thought they were waiting for entry into one of the theaters that attract visitors to the Covent Garden area of London. However, as I rounded the block and did not see any Theatre marquee, I asked my local friend, “What are those people in line for?” Without even looking at the line, she quickly replied, “Angels, the fancy dress shop.” “Fancy dress shop?” I inquired. “Yes, for tomorrow.” she replied. “For tomorrow?” And then I realized what she meant: Halloween. Fancy dress must be a British term for costume. When we got closer to the storefront, I saw that, indeed the shop housed several floors of costumes, wigs, etc… It looked bigger than any costume shop I had ever seen in my life and I wanted to explore it, however, given the long line or ‘queue’ (as the Brits say), I made a mental note to swing by another day, perhaps after this Halloween and before the next.

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If you are in London and looking for costumes, Angels may be the perfect place to check out.
Angels Fancydress

Weekly photo challenge: Reflection

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What is real? As I thought about the week’s photo challenge, this question floated to and fro. Because this photo, of a pond in eastern Germany, was taken with an old iPhone, the quality isn’t too crisp or clear. However, it’s easy to recognize the scenery: trees, around a pond and reflected in the water. A quiet place for reflection where everything looks normal. However, upon further inspection, you may notice that something is a little off, a bit surreal. Do you see it?

My reflections are often similarly unclear and unreal. As I get older, it’s difficult to decipher if remembrances of past events are 100% accurate or if they have been altered (like this photo) and affected by stories I have been told or stories I have read. When I was younger, things appeared so black and white; but as I age, those distinctions seem less clear and less important. What is real and what is an illusion?

What is real?

Taking care in Rome, Hanoi and…

Take care in Rome, Hanoi and...

Trying to cross a road in Rome, where vehicular traffic streamed endlessly from all directions, I remember observing other pedestrians who boldly ran halfway across the street, frantically looking all around, only to retreat back to where they had started, when they suddenly realized they could not reach the other side of the road without getting hit. I looked for another way to get across the street, but there were no other options: no crosswalk, no overhead sidewalk (laughable, I know), no nothing. Like everybody else, I hesitated and then focused my attention on finding a suitable gap in the flow. Unfortunately, all the Italians racing motorized vehicles seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere. Quite the opposite for the Italians sitting in cafes, sipping their wine, chatting with their neighbors, laughing at the foreigners trying to cross the road. They appeared happy to just sit and observe life. I wanted to get over to their side of the road. But how?

Crossing the road in Rome, Hanoi, or any other big city with scant semblance of order or structural enforcement can be intimidating or even deadly for even the most bravest of adventure seekers. There is something unsettling about imagining our flesh going up against man-made machines going at accelerated speeds. It’s not an inviting feeling, and it certainly didn’t entice me to step off the sidewalk almost 16 years ago. But, because I HAD to cross the road, I did the only think I could, without thinking further, I just willed my body forward and took a bold step off the sidewalk and into the suicidal stream of sacriledge. I focused my attention directly in front of me, trying to keep my tremendous fear at bay. The whizzing of Vespas and motorcycles around me blew my long hair every which way, but even when strangled strands of hair blocked my view, I maintained my steady and determined gait with no hesitation, and by putting one foot in front of the other, I reached the other side unscathed.

What I learned, on that day in Rome, was to stop trying to control things that I could not control. Rather than trying to calculate the best ‘gap’ in the frantic chaos of too-many-cappuccino-induced drivers, I just became part of it. After I succumbed to the chaos and let myself go, I just went with the flow. Amazingly, the Vespa drivers, the motorcyclists, and the cabbies all modulated their speeds, their accelerations and their maneuvers to avoid hitting me. Wow!

Can this method also be applied to other crossroads in our lives? Is it better to simply let go and take the first step, then to worry, over analyze, plan to death, or procrastinate? Is letting go better even when we have no clear direction or goal in mind?

Takin care in Rome, Hanoi and…

She’s got balls! I wish I could do that!

She's got balls!  I wish I could do that!

Living in a city offers opportunities to see things that one would rarely spot in a small town or village. As I ventured to the store to pick up some fresh milk, the exotic sounds of belly-dance beats bounced off the Zeil and lured me into its trance. As I followed the rhythms to the heart of the street, I noticed a well-endowed “woman” with belly-dance bells over her flirty skirt entertaining the crowd with her dramatic hip actions. All the shoppers, also lured by the sounds and scene, broke from their consumer frenzy to enjoy the surprising scene.

The first thought that sprang to my mind was, “Wow! She’s got balls! I could never belly dance in front of a growing group of strangers, let alone in front of my friends.” Apparently, I was not the only one piqued. A squat man in a red-striped shirt that stretched over his rotund stomach focused his eyes only on her. He sprang into action, twirling, teasingly strutting his stuff, and sashaying his body to her. The crowd cheered in excitement by clapping and hooting, encouraging them both. We all stood rooted to our places, enjoying the performance, until the band eventually ended their gig and the two dancers went their separate ways.

Still mesmerized, with bewildering thoughts going through my head, I started my journey home only to realize, when I was climbing back up the stairs to the flat, that I had forgotten to buy the milk. Doh! But then I realized “Who needs milk or substances when street performers provide nourishment and remind us of what it means to be alive and free to be who we are.” Would you ever see a performance like that in a small little town? I didn’t think so.

She’s got balls! I wish I could do that!

Better think twice about lighting up…at least in Singapore

Better think twice about lighting up

I remember my rucksack trips through Europe, back in the smoke-filled days of the ’90s, when it seemed as if EVERYBODY smoked EVERYWHERE. Now most buildings, restaurants and even bars ban smoking in many of the European countries. Much of Asia, however, reeks of smoke, as U.S. tobacco companies have shifted their aggressive marketing campaigns from here to there.

I can’t remember exactly where I took this photo (my memory must be affected from all that second-hand smoke I inhaled from too many rock concerts in my youth), but its hefty fine – 1,000SGD- identifies it easily: Singapore. Smokers beware: Lighting up in Singapore can be very expensive.

In light of the recent smoke-related news, the legalization of marijuana in several U.S. states, it will be interesting to see what the next generations decide about the decisions made today. Will marijuana smoking also become a fading fad as future generations discover something we do not yet know or understand, or will it gain more substance and last longer than the Mona Lisa’s smile?

Better think twice about lighting up…at least in Singapore