48 hours between two continents. How do I feel?
The madness of my current lifestyle will reach its peak tomorrow: I am flying to NYC for a meeting and I will have only 30 hours in the city. Two transatlantic flights within 48 hours, with my going to work upon landing back to Paris. I don’t want to think about how good a shape I’ll be in at that point. The only important thing right now is getting there..I so hate crossing the ocean, and this time I’ll be doing it on the Airbus A380, the biggest passenger jet there is….a double decker, no less.
Sorry I’d had no time to post anything new lately: work has been particularly crazy lately and there’s only that much one can do in 24 hours. I apologise for letting my followers down but I also know most of you are my friends and family. So here is an idea. You’ve missed my birthday this year…due to the distance most of you got away with no gift this time 🙂
So here is your chance to make it better: a colleague of mine here is Paris, a wonderful, kind, talented girl, is – when not flying around Europe and working around the clock as we all do – a very talented soprano. Her choir is doing a project, trying to stage Faust with crowd funding.
If you love me, donate to her project as my belated birthday gift. That’ll be present enough for me, as I will see the opera when staged!
Here’s the link and I know you will support it:
The most impressive place I’ve visited since arriving in Spain, large, imposing and magnificent, Cordoba’s cathedral is truly a unique cultural experience.
The foundation of San Vincente Basilica, an edifice built in the 6th century, before the invasion of Visigoths, is still there underneath, and constitutes the first known layer of the Cathedral. Destroyed during the Islamic period, a mosque was erected in its place. The Muslims proceeded to add layer upon layer of Islamic architecture to beautify and expand their holy place from 785 to the 1200s. But history is cruel, and with the rise of Christian Spain, the fall of the Muslim one began. In 1236, King Ferdinand 3rd reconquered Cordoba and proceeded with the ‘purification’ of the Mosque, which was now turned into a cathedral, but kept architecturally intact. Then, in 1525, the works on the main chapel, a church constructed within the Mosque itself, began. Catholic king Carlos I had the center of the mosque ripped out and commissioned the construction of a cathedral. But rather than rejoice, he later came to regret this major alteration to the mosque, saying “I have destroyed something that was unique in the world.”
The Cathedral of Cordoba, while impressive in size, is most impressive for its layered architecture, a reflection of the tumultuous history of Cordoba. Early Christian, then Muslim, then Catholic…a mixture of styles under one roof. It speaks to the changing nature of humans and the whims of culture, as much as it speaks to the lasting impression those cultures left behind. In this Cathedral, looking at the remains of the Muslin Mihrab side by side with beautiful chapels, one is reminded that life does not last, that human egos don’t prevail, and that, in the end, God or Allah be venerated, our passage is so brief, and our quests are so ephemeral.
The Alhambra, the former residence of the Nasrid Sultans, is currently the most visited sight in Spain.
The name Alhambra comes from Arabic and means “crimson castle’. Alhambra was an “alcazaba” (fortress), an “alcázar” (palace) and a small “medina” (city), a mega city for its time, I would imagine.
The Nasrites, the dynasty, was started with Muhammed Al-Ahmar, who began the restoration of an old 9th century fortress. His son continued with the construction of the palaces back in the 14th century. The work was continued by Yusuf I and Muhammed V, and remained under Moorish rule until Alhambra became a Christian court in 1492 when Ferdinand and Isabella conquered the city of Granada.
The Christians added the Franciscan Monastery, and Ferdinand and Isabella’s grandson, Emperor Charles V began the construction of the palace which bears his name (so out of place with the rest of the decor) and made some alterations to the interior buildings.
After the 18th Alhambra fell into neglect and, for a while, was the adhoc abode of beggars and thieves….until 1870, when it was declared a National Monument and brought back to the forefront of Spanish cultural heritage. Once the residence of the Sultan and of top government officials, court servants and the royal guard, nowadays it is here to enchant masses of tourists on a daily basis. Today, I was one of them.
Sevilla is indescribable. This Andalusian corner of the world is wonderfully alive! Pretty, culturally rich and quite cosmopolitan, Seville is a must! Currently half deserted due to the heat, I can enjoy it at 38 degrees Celsius and not have to share it with too many tourists. As Andalusia is the hottest area of Spain, Seville’s high season is May-June and then October. This means that if you enjoy hot weather, and I mean HOT, this time is perfect to visit, as hotels are cheap and attractions not too crowded. Personally, after being rained on all of August in miserable summer-less Paris, I could not be happier here: the heat is intense but dry and I needed to be reminded there was a summer in 2014!
Luckily, Seville’s top attractions are also providing an environment cool enough to be enjoyed despite the scorching heat. I spent the day visiting the Alcazar and the Cathedral.
Alcazar, to put it succinctly , is Sevilla’s equivalent of Granada’s Alhambra Palace. Built over 4 centuries as a fortress, then a palace it owes its current form to a succession of faiths and notables’ political aspirations. Moorish enough and Spanish enough to charm and astound, the Alcazar it is still in part the Spanish Royal family’s residence in Seville.
The wonderful islamic detail in the design of the courtyards contrasts to the aristocratic detail, prettiness and feel of the gardens, and the visit seems a walk through the best of times in the history of Spain. The Hall of the Ambassadors is the best part, and appears as if materialized from old Arabian Nights.
The Cathedral, in contrast, is mostly gothic, though the beautiful courtyard and the Giralda tower, a former minaret, remind one that this, once upon a time, was a mosque.
Though originally built in the 12th century, the christian transformation from mosque to church took place over one hundred years, starting around year 1400. The Cathedral’s vastness is beyond impressive, and, depending on criteria of use (i.e. total area) this is the largest church in the world!!! There are plenty of notable art-pieces to admire, but the most notable and imposing feature is the Gothic altarpiece, Capilla Mayor, which contains 45 scenes from the life of Christ frozen in three dimensional gold plated icons.
The most famous feature though can be found to the left of the altar: Christopher Columbus tomb. No one knows for certain if his remains are actually interred within, but, regardless, this is the most impressive, and perhaps most somber tomb I’ve ever seen.
I will be going on my second week of summer vacation soon. Saturday morning I fly to Seville, from there, two days later, I’ll be going to Cordoba, then back to Seville via Granada, where I’ll also be spending 2 days. A bit rushed, as was my Italian getaway, but there’s only that much ground one can cover in 7 days. I’m hoping for sunshine to counterbalance the miserable weather we’ve been having in Paris: rain, rain and more rain.
But first, just so I don’t forget it, the customary 24 hour in Denmark.
Wish me luck.
In North America, the general fascination with Europe centres around differences in lifestyle and societal approach to life-work balance between the European and American/Canadian society.
Moreover, the reference case for such comparisons and the corollary of North American envy is France. A visit to any bookstore would inevitably lead to the dedicated corner to everything French, where in the smallest of spaces one can see a plethora of books on the broadest variety of topics relating to France and the French. The title is always prosaic and message invariably positive. Paris, the most romantic city; French food paradox: eat butter, drink wine, live happy and long! French men are great lovers! French women don’t diet! The French work 35 hours a week and enjoy the longest holidays in Europe!
Oh, let’s all move to Paris, let loose and be French!
..well, I did. Not because of those books, incidentally, and not because I believed all the hype but, truthfully, because I needed a change and was hoping for a slightly more relaxed life, with bit more time to travel and more time to myself.
Fast-forward a year and I’m sitting admiring Parisian rooftops from my apartment, paid for with the wages from my enviable Parisian job. Friends back in North America imagine me breakfasting on fresh croissants and accompanying each meal with champagne, while strolling carefree the bohemian Paris quartiers.
But the reality is this: right now in front of me I have my work laptop, and a presentation that I’m working on …on Saturday. I spent my whole day working today and I’ll be working tomorrow, too.
Monday to Friday I work from 9-9:30 to 6:30- 7, and that’s a regular day. All my French colleagues work like this. Yes, we are given 6 weeks of vacation, but that’s to compensate 46 weeks of 10-11 hour days.
How is this possible? It’s simple. France operates on a dual band workforce: those working for one type of government job or another, benefiting from long vacations (8-9 weeks) and the prescribed 35 hour week but receiving very small wages; and those working for the corporations as “cadre” … who have to opt out of the 35 hour week, work like dogs and, to compensate, have a decent wage, 5 or 6 weeks of vacation and 5-6 additional RTT (reduction du temps de travail) days off a year. For the latter, 50 – 60 hours, plus more than the occassional weekend of unpaid work, is the norm.
If you’re dreaming of moving to France in search of that easy life, think again. As an expat, you’ll only be able to get a job as a cadre. So, unless you’re independently wealthy, your simple, stress-free life in Paris will remain a dream if you come here with a job.
The 9-5 is an Anglo-Saxon concept that is not adopted here. It’s strange to me, but all my colleagues at work are jealous of my former 9-5 life in Canada….in fact, many dream of moving to Montreal. I have days when I, too, get nostalgic for what, at the time, seemed a very stressful work schedule.
You don’t have to take my word, feel free to check out some related articles about work life balance in contemporary Europe….
Not quite the stuff of dreams, is it?
Truth is, my job enables me to run around Europe at the weekends (when I don’t work) and for that, I am grateful.
But the reality of my work in Paris has killed every preconceived idea on the French life/work balance I might once have had…
Affectionately known as “little Rome”, Arles was established as the first Roman foundation in Gaul. The 26,000-seat Les Arènes d’Arles (another UNESCO heritage site) was originally built for circuses and gladiator combats towards the end of the 1st century B.C. Still in use, it is now the site of Sunday afternoon bullfights. I know, who would have thought bullfights take place outside of Spain? In fact, both Nimes and Arles have them, owing the taste for the fight to the proximity of this part of Provence to Spain. The Provençal version of the sport, however, puts a more humane spin on the game, as the animal does not get killed. Instead, Bulfighters have to retrieve a rosette tied to the animal’s forehead without being gored.
Beyond the Arene, the Théâtre Antique (site of a Music and Drama Festival each July), is even more magnificent. Endowed with amazing acoustics, though quite affected by the passage of time, the theatre astounds and humbles, and takes one to Ancient Greece via the Romans.
More Roman vestiges can be found on the banks of the River Rhone, in the Thermes de Constantin. Originating from the 4th century AD, the thermal baths are incredibly well preserved, and quite instructional: the rooms and heating mechanism are well preserved and speak to an ingenious and precocious mastery of technology.
St Trophime Church, finally, is also a must, but, on this occasion was closed for an event. I did, however, get a chance to visit the pretty and serene cloisters.
All in all, Arles is truly enchanting. For fans of Van Gogh, there are numerous traces of his time in the city as well as dedicated museums. For me, that would have to wait for a return trip.