Spring clean.

Spring clean.

I’ve achieved so little this morning (even though it is only about 10am as I write this), and I can hardly stop walking around my newly fresh apartment after a weekend of spring cleaning. I did just get off the phone to Telstra, so to be fair, two hours were spent working on my deep breathing techniques while performing lunges with gritted teeth in and around the few spare square meters left of this little studio, now zinging with the scent of poisonous blue cleaning products and a candle named ‘Granade’ (translating to ‘Pomegranate’).  Fitting as the ambient scent for a long phone call to the telco, I would have thought.

It’s been almost two months since I arrived, and the dust was beginning to gather so, much of Saturday and Sunday were spent whooshing down the supermarket aisles with my basket collecting things like ‘Canard de Toilette’ (yes, toilet duck is a universal thing), and a blue floor cleaning product that came with the promise of restoring the kitchen and bathroom tiles to their original order (with little stars that sparkle around the mop head while doing so)- all while making the apartment smell like a deep blue ocean.  I’d probably settle for ‘lung busting poison,’ and the only stars I saw were the ones blinking in my eyes as I bent over too quickly, but it’s all clean nonetheless.  

For those of you who don’t like the thought of using cleaning products the colour of a public swimming pool, I do have to add that this is my only sin and it’s very hard not to be environmentally minded in Paris.  Every bin in the bin basement is plastered with stickers and passive aggressive notes about what and what not to put into them.  I know these rules are obeyed because I ended up in one of these bins, white shirt, trousers and all, after dispatching my keys into one of them on the way to the airport last winter.  It was the cleanest bin I ever did see and I am a stickler for obeying these rules.  I also did a further bit for the environment yesterday by purchasing a tin water bottle (BPA free) with a vegan leather strap, to aid with my addiction to the Parisian water that has been through seven kidneys before it touches my lips- while reducing the amount of plastic water bottles I seem to be going through. 

On the matter of clothing, I went out on Saturday and picked up two lovely skirts (les jupes).  Not one to ever really expose my legs (I give a tease of an ankle from time to time when I roll my trousers up), I finally had a belated life epiphany that dressing like a seven year old could be quite liberating for my soul, and with that I came home with two skirts and spent the warmest part of yesterday bathing my stucco columns in the sun, over a bowl of crunchy vegetables, quinoa and kale.  I know, that dish doesn’t really marry well with the thought of using bright blue Canard in the loo, but it happened.  I’ve been craving crunch and sun for days and when I wasn’t pushing the vacuum cleaner followed by the mop, I was at ‘Judy,’ a really sweet little café in the 6th arrondissement – just a short walk from home via the Luxembourg gardens.  Judy has all the things that I thought I’d never miss- including kale and quinoa and really delicious take away coffee, and I can feel it fast becoming an addiction.  

Mercifully (or not), Judy sits on my path to Foundation Robert de Sorbon, where I will spend most of September through to December.  I went to visit the Sorbon on Thursday and positively skipped out after a really fruitful meeting, where I paid my registration fee and left with a feeling of deep gratitude that the process wasn’t as hard as the website might suggest (similar to my visit to the French Consulate in Sydney in May- I’m still trying to work out why these people make their websites so terrifying).

With the arrival of August, Paris is quiet, reminding me of my visits in January where everyone seems to run away, leaving behind an aging population and hardworking young locals with jobs.  It’s a pleasant time to be here, with the cafés emptier, the museums exercising a restored sense of calm and the streets easier to navigate.  On Saturday night as I walked home, young people dined out on rapid conversations en français and mojitos and as I crossed the Pont d’Acole, the selfie sticks were out in lesser force and the tinkle of bike bells were complimented with a new type of silence as an almost cool breeze filled the evening air.  The sun began to set and people took to day beds in the forecourt of the beautiful Hôtel de Ville where a big plasma screen was set up to project Usain Bolt’s final race. 

As I type this, a song that I cleverly shezamed in a shop yesterday titled ‘Not Over Yet’ and sung by Zoe Durrant, plays quietly in the corner.  While it might be all but over for Usain, I feel it is just the beginning for me as I head into a new phase of ‘Ma Vie A Paris.’  

And finally, if you haven’t already found my tab dedicated to a few of my favourite things, I’d love you to have a look in the main menu where you will find this page, aptly named ‘Paris.’

Pictured:  the leaning tower of books that was built during my weekend spring clean. 

From my window.

From my window.

I type this in the window of my tiny loft as threatening clouds hover above and a much anticipated cool breeze sweeps past my nose.  This morning on the news, the breathy French woman who delivers the weather spoke (at a pace that would challenge a high speed train), of temperatures reaching 40 degrees in the coming days- a reality hard to imagine on this pleasantly cool Parisian day.

The past couple of days have seen me settling back into life in this beautiful big city after almost a month of travels which included two very special weeks with Dad, a trip to the UK followed by a week in Italy, and upon my arrival back here very late on Monday night I was met with a feeling of being very much at home.  My administrative needs had completely slipped as I whirled around the countryside and 'to do' lists have become common place over the past 48 hours.

I've enjoyed conversations with shopkeepers in my year three French, and even positively skipped out of Diptyque on Monday after the very nice man (in both the looks and temperament departments) told me that I am doing well with 'my speaking French.'  This was after he had signed me up to their loyalty program and I'm sure it was just a ploy to get me back to purchase a €9,000,000 difuser, but neverthelesse I blushed, thanked him very much and then bid him goodnight (completely illegal in this language unless the person is very familiar).  And, it was 2pm.

After weeks of thrashing my white summer shirt suits, I hauled them all through the washing machine before setting off yesterday morning, making a mental note that a laundry bucket and some napisan needed to be added to the shopping list.  After a day of walking the streets, crossing items off the list over a coffee in the afternoon, I had completed all of my jobs with just a trip to the 'droguerie' being the last one on my list, and where I would purchase a bucket and a small vessle to keep the 'use daily' section of the bathroom tidy.  

I love the 'droguerie,' a tiny little hardware store which is only moments from the apartment.  Straw baskets hang from hooks out the front and upon stepping through the doors, everything you could possibly imagine is stacked purposfully onto shelves that line every inch of it's tall walls, framing the minuscule square metres that make up the shop floor.  The man who runs the store is a wonderful, bearded and friendly Parisian who is old school in his manner, making him a complete gentleman.  He always speaks in French and doesn't whince when I answer his questions- a rarity in this city and just the way I like it.  

As I made my approach, I practiced conversations in my head that you might have around a bucket- 'it's for the laundry' I would confidently say before adding 'I can't live without a laundry bucket,' and then I'd go mute and pray that he wouldn't get too carried away.  Once inside, my eyes panned the tiny shop catching a glimpse of hammers, ladders, napkins, more baskets than a French bakery, light bulbs, nails and an abundance of glassware stacked neatly in the corner.  There was soap hanging from the ceiling and nifty little shopping bags wrapped tightly in their reusable packages, but not a bucket in sight.  The bearded shopkeeper met me with his usual friendliness and I asked if he had 'un petit seau,' (I always find it easier to ask for a little bag, or a little glass of wine, believing it to be much politer and less American, and was not going to buck the trend for a bucket).  'Oui' came his reply, as he moved heaven and earth, rearranging trolleys stacked with novelty items such as espadrilles and biscuit tins, before opening a cupboard under the front window where a collection of buckets, ranging from petit to grand, were stacked in the usual range of colours, red, blue, white and grey.  

We agreed on a 'seau' with a four litre capacity if it was for the laundry, before I purchased a little basket for the bathroom and a nice piece of green soap for the shower as well.  I didn't farewell him with 'goodnight' rather a cheerful 'et vous' after he wished me a 'good day.'  As I meandered home through the little strip of cafes that line the street leading to mine, I overheard an American girl asking her friend very loudly 'what is French food anyway,' to which her companian replied 'oh, you know, like crepes and snails,' which was met with 'Ew, pancakes and snails, how gross.'  

Throughout the moments in which I processed this highly entertaining conversation, a turbo charged Porsche with NYC number plates almost mowed me down and I scattered, bucket under my arm towards a postcard stand, almost collecting the waiter who had been so rude to me over a month ago (I wrote about him in an earlier blog, singling him out as the only rude French person I've ever truly endured).  Obviously recalling the force with which he threw me in his display of bullish rudeness (equally as abnoxious as the Porsche that had almost mown him down in that very moment as well), he gave me a knowing, almost apologetgic smile, as he raised his hand into a friendly wave.  I clutched my grey bucket under my arm and marched past him with a half smile and gritted teeth thinking 'I'm in it for the long haul Monsieur, I've even got a laundry bucket,' and continued on my merry way home.

Potentino.

Potentino.

Many years ago, just after the birth of Christ, I worked for a heliskiing company which saw me spending Australian summers and the months that followed, high up in the Indian Himalaya in a little town called Manali. This was a job that I absolutely relished in, and with it came an immeasurable love for India, seeing a long awaited and much anticipated return in February this year.

In my mid twenties, this Indian dream had to come to an end with my studies complete and long university holidays fast becoming a thing of the past, replaced with the much dreaded but invevitable reality of 'reality.'  At the end of my final season in Manali, rather than returning directly to Melbourne, I packed my bags, bidding farewell to my beloved Himalayan life and headed for London.  Many of my closest friends had made a life in London and I had delusional dreams of setting up a life there and making my first fortune (in what, I still ask myself?).  Days went by at a pace challenged only by the way in which double decker buses whooshed past, filling my sandals with water splashed rudely out of puddles, and I felt nothing short of confused.  One evening, as I tried to make head or tail of my existence, a very dear friend of mine (who to this day is still one of my most favourite people), sidled up to me over an orange cocktail and gave me the sage advice that I probably needed to go to Potentino.  Having no idea what this actually meant, I was interested nonetheless and excited the following morning when an invitation arrived by email to attend the launch of a much anticipated wine produced in Italy, set to make its London debut that night.

I put on my best silk pyjama suit, made by Mr Gulati (my favourite Manali tailor and whose son had earnestly, not once but twice, told me his father was up the backside praying when I asked of his whereabouts) only weeks earlier as a farewell gift as I left Manali. I filled my arms with bangles, wrapped my hair high up on my head before making a pretentious exit out the front door.  This sounded like quite a bit of fun.

It was a Sangiovese kind of night and where I first met Charlotte Horton, maker of the aforementioned wine who was sporting not only an Ikat to rival all Ikats, but a black eye gifted to her by her beloved chocolate Labrador Coco, as she left Italy the day before.  

The following week I met Charlotte again, this time in less glamorous surrounds on the edge of the luggage belt at Pisa airport, before we made the journey by car back to Castello di Potentino. I still recall very fondly, the first evening spent around a rustic table in a modest kitchen, filled with much laughter in the company of Charlotte, her beautiful and incredibly talented mother Sally and a rather odd American man named Ken.  We feasted on farro teamed with nettles carefully foraged from the edges of the castle grounds, and drank beautiful Sangiovese made by Charlotte and her right hand man Uran- a completely charming Albanian who, with his wife Evalina and their daughter Roberta, formed an important part of the Potentino family.  To this day, that meal remains a very happy memory and it marks the beginning of a wonderful friendship with Charlotte and her family.  

The following morning saw an early start in the vineyard as Charlotte showed me how to tame the vines over their wires and explained that the history of the castle dated back to the Etruscans, adding that everything that they ate, grew and produced, was in tune with the earth that formed the beautiful valley within which the castle was built.  I found myself possessed by vistas from a thousand aspects; from the tiny bathroom windows to the huge archways that flanked the castle courtyard – everything was framed to perfection and became completely different with the ever changing and varying light seen throughout the day.  This was no scene from 'Under the Tuscan Sun,' rather a thoroughly hardworking group of people with a vision towards creating a sustainable way of living that relied upon and married with, the resources available to them in both nature and their workforce.  The castle had been brought back to life only years earlier by a dedicated army of volunteers led by Charlotte and Uran, after sitting destitute for a long period time.  When first purchased by the Greene family, brambles had taken over and the grounds were in disarray, but the physical structure remained and the life that had been breathed back into this medieval building on an Etruscan site, was careful and with an ever present nod to its ancient history- I found it absolutely amazing. 

We would work until mid morning before breaking with the heat of the day, commencing work again in the cool of the late afternoon.  I found myself beginning to come alive again with swims in the river that rushed with freezing cold water below the castle grounds complimented with beautiful, simple food prepared with ingredients sourced from the earth around me.  

One evening, in the company of Charlotte, her stepfather Graham (the Greene part of the equation), her mother Sally and truly sweet man named Raleigh who was visiting from London and with whom I was completely fascinated, the conversation shifted to Josephine.  'Who is Josephine?' I asked before being given a complete history of a woman named Josephine Powell, photographer, who had kept a room at Hotel Kabul in Afghanistan's capital for many years as she travelled between Rome and Kabul in a Landrover with a Belgian sheepdog, before settling in Istanbul towards the end of her life.  Throughout her travels, Josephine had garnered a true understanding of, and a deep respect within Anatolian nomadic communities.  This saw her become a much loved and highly respected Anthropologist with an incredible collection of photography, tools and weavings as well as a highly regarded knowledge and understanding of Anatolian history.  

A week after I arrived at Potentino, and after a phone call made that night over dinner as the conversation turned to Josephine, I landed at the airport in Istanbul where I was met by a woman who stood no higher than my waist, hunched over a sign bearing my name and with a hand rolled cigarette hanging out of her mouth under a 'no smoking' sign.  

I spent almost three months with Josephine, sifting through photographs and endless drawers of tools and piles of weavings as we brought a type of order to her most incredible collection.  We laughed until we cried as she recalled memories of her past- it was an experience I will never forget.  Josephine was as unpredictable as she was funny and I'll always fondly recall her shouting 'shut up' from underneath an aeroplane mask, cigarette hanging from her mouth, as the Tellytubbies danced across her television screen.  I was so sad when I read of her death only a short few years later- she lived a life like no other and I feel more than privileged to have spent time with her where I learnt so much, and where we shared a mutual love for lives lived in a world far away from the one that was becoming increasingly global, aggressive and self importantly plastered over the evening news.

After leaving Josephine, I returned to Potentino where the table was gradually filling with a fascinatingly diverse blend of people who were either volunteering in the vineyard or visiting Charlotte, Sally and Graham.  We worked tirelessly in the vines and I took away a new found perspective from conversations had at the dinner table, where I never quite knew who I was sitting beside and to this day, the mystery of the unknown dinner companion remains common place at Potentino.  The preparation of meals was a shared responsibility, as was the clearing of the table and all the duties that were required to maintain an order around the most important part of the day- a meal shared with those who had a genuine interest in Potentino.

Throughout the years I have to returned to Potentino for regular visits, always leaving feeling newly revived and increasingly inspired as I watch the castle go from strength to strength but with an edge that keeps it seemingly the same.  There is no shortage of music, laughter, conversations to inspire and individuals unique to the Potentino table.  More recently Charlotte has been joined permanently by her brother Alexander, and between the two of them they have managed to maintain a familiar speed and the habits that are characteristically 'Potentino' and its rich history, while running a thoroughly industrious 21st century castle.

When I spent New Year's Eve at Potentino in January this year, I spoke of my plans to move to Paris in the middle of this year which was met with dares of returning, followed by taunts of 'do you know the castle is fortified.'  I returned last weekend and left yesterday, feeling newly buoyant and ready for the next steps in this adventure that is the complete unknown.  

Throughout my recent visit, the courtyard was flooded with the sounds of classical music as the immensely talented Pietro Bonfilio staged four hour piano rehearsals in preparation for his concert at Potentino tonight.  Whilst I'm sad to miss it, as he is talented as he is a joy to be around, I type this blog to the sound of his new album (Kabalevsky- Piano Sonata No. 3- 24 Preludes, available on iTunes- shameless plug), this is just another example of the way in which Charlotte and Alexander have managed to bring people together as they continue to farm and produce in a way that is not only enormously sustainable, but through diverse workshops and the ability to volunteer, is also incredibly inclusive.

While the mention of visits to a castle in Tuscany is often met with raised brows, this is a place unlike any other and over the years has taught me so much, across so many facets of life.

Pictured: Castello di Potentino flanked in winter light, January 2017.