Earlier this month, A and I spent a week with his family, visiting more of his family, and staying at the house where his grandmother grew up in France. It was a wonderful, if admittedly overwhelming experience. We were never fewer than twelve people in the house – going up to nineteen at one point, and it was, as A said, much like living in a Mauriac novel. Fascinating characters abounded, and many long and late night conversations were had around the dinner table over cheese and wine.
I take a lot of trains these days, but one of my favorite journeys is the one from Geneva to Paris. I never get sick of scenery, so if I'm on a car, train, or plane, I'm almost always glued to the window. Watching the world go by is endlessly fascinating, and I love seeing all that it has to offer while sitting back in a comfy chair.
A and I left for Paris earlier this week, and the window gazing was exceptional this time around. It's been extremely cold lately, so for one of the first times, I got to see my favorite bits of landscape covered in snow! It was beautiful. Snow makes the flatest, not-in-the-least-dramatic landscapes chillingly beautiful, so how could it not with the pre-Alps?
Lots of Paris photos to come soon...
My first ever trip to London, I had my first ever panic attack, blacked out in the middle of Harrods, and spent most of my 48 hours in town sleeping it all off in my hotel room. Still, I managed to go out for a few hours on my last day and visit the V&A with my mom and grandma. It was a magical experience, and it became one I've recreated every trip to London since.
The V&A is a vast and amazing place. I've visited it six or seven times now, and I'm sure there are still corners I have yet to discover. One thing I saw for the first time on my last trip, when A and I returned a few hours before heading to the airport, was it's library. We went on a Sunday so it was closed, but I spend a few minutes peering in from the glass doors, wishing I could go in...
What better topic to discuss on Halloween than Harry Potter?? I've been a Harry Potter fan since I was eight years old and my aunt read a chapter of The Chamber of Secrets to me and my cousins. It was love at first reading, and I went into full child fan mode within months. I wrote Harry Potter plays for me and my cousins to perform and next gen fanfics as creative writing assignments in school (in one particularly thrilling one, Harry and Ginny hosted a barbecue for their friends). I immersed myself in it fully, and if I'd known then that sixteen years on, I'd be flying to London to see the continuation of Harry Potter on stage, I would have been thrilled.
Sadly, sixteen years on, The Cursed Child proved to be quite a disappointment. The book was terrible, but reading it, I'd hoped that the play would be better. It wasn't. It was "thank goodness the theater bar has happy hours" levels of bad. I've heard people calling it bad fan fiction, but I don't think that's fair. It's more like – and I owe A for this comparison – like a four-hour-long SNL skit making fun of Harry Potter... or as the Duke of Bookingham put it, like a parody of A Very Potter Musical. It was whiny, it was full of manpain and teen angst, and it all felt very hokey.
I think most of the experience can be summed up by a small scene I witnessed in the theater bar before the second part of the play started. I came across a mother-daughter pair, and the daughter (maybe seven or eight years old) was begging her mom to go upstairs because they needed to join the merchandise queue, and the mom just sighed, and firmly announced, "No, Mummy needs a cocktail."
Nursing my own cocktail at the time, I sympathized and many cocktails were had that night.
Still, I enjoyed myself at the play quite a bit. There's quite a lot in going to bad plays in excellent company. A reacted similarly to every bit of the play as I did, and we had a marvelous time quietly bashing it to each other. We went through it together, and we had fun, and I don't at all regret going.
The Courtauld Gallery is one of those places that I've been dying to visit for most of my life. My mom went to a Courtauld exhibit at the MET in the 80s, and I've consequently been surrounded by framed posters from it for most of my life. Manet's "Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil" has played a particularly important role, hanging in my room for years. Its blue shades instantly evoke calm and childhood happiness, and I've always wanted to see it in person.
A and I put our Saturday morning in London aside to visit the Courtauld with Angela, another Coven Morgana friend. We took our time going through the different floors of the gallery, and it truly proved to be the museum of my dreams. Small, exquisitely curated, heavy on Impressionism, and set in a beautiful building. I think I enjoyed Somerset House almost (almost!) as much as the art.
That being said, "Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil" did not disappoint, and the experience proved to be just as surreal as I'd imagined. My poster is bigger than the painting itself (coming to that realization as I stood in front of it was a very #American moment), but the vibrancy of the colors and movement of the brushstrokes come across so incredibly on canvas that I'm sorry that I didn't stand in front of it for longer. It's such a beautiful, peaceful painting.
So many of the paintings in the collection caught my attention, and I even found myself admiring an early Picasso. (I am, historically, not very fond of Picasso.) I can't wait to go back on future trips and give more time to the paintings I didn't have time to dwell over.
By far the best thing blogging has brought me over the past few years is my incredible group of friends. Many of these started as individual friendships, but more and more have them have come together over the past two years to form what we first jokingly referred to and then embraced as Coven Morgana. We don't practice witchcraft but support one another, provide morale, and share positivity, aesthetic, and cake recipes. It's brilliant and international, and while most of us live in different places, from the West Coast of the States to Western Europe, some of us still manage to meet up in England from time to time.
We were lucky enough to have such a meeting with Amy, Abby, and Amy V. Norris when A and I were in London a few weeks ago. We went to the British Library, to the Wallace Collection, had coffee and cake, and stocked up on books at my favorite Persephone Books. And then we went to the V&A and ended up drinking a bottle of wine in the café instead of browsing the Undressed exhibition. As you do when an international aesthetic coven meets up in London.
It was an altogether amazing day, and I look forward to the day every one of us can meet up and have fun together.
London in October seems to have become a mini tradition. I went to visit A last year, and we went again almost on the same dates this year. Part of the tradition also seems to be going to different plays while we're there. Last year, we saw Measure for Measure at the Young Vic with Romola Garai, and this year we traveled to London in order to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. We had our suspicions that it would be terrible, so we also decided to see Emma Rice's Imogen at the Globe to balance things out.
I'd never been to the Globe before this, while A is somewhat of an addict, going on every Shakespeare trip his university offers and having seen every Globe production so far this season. Needless to say, he was keen on our going. I was a bit skeptical at first, not because of Emma Rice, but because I can easily get bored with Shakespeare productions. I've been to my fair share of RSC productions over the past few years, but it took me some time to come to terms with the fact that I wasn't enjoying them so much as telling myself that I had to enjoy them (or, well, enjoying being in the same room as David Tennant). I'm an English lit postgrad after all. I may not be an Early Modernist, but like, how dare I admit that I'm not huge on Shakespeare and expect to be taken seriously? But seriously, I'm not huge on Shakespeare, and I'm not scared to admit it anymore. I enjoy the pop culture around him and his work (like Upstart Crow this year? I loved that), I enjoy watching some of the plays, but I dislike reading them and I need the ones I watch to be really good, engaging productions.
And that really, really was the case with Imogen. I should have known based on the title and Emma Rice's reputation alone. Imogen was a reclamation of Cymbeline, placing more weight on the female characters and adapting it to a more modern setting. I know a lot of people are mad at Emma Rice for stepping away from traditional Shakespeare (and I absolutely get that in relation to the Globe's historic function), but I for one am glad that the first production I attended at the Globe was one of hers. I enjoy Shakespeare much more when it's been updated and made more relevant. Every moment of the play was engaging and almost over-the-top and I don't think I zoned out at any point. A bitter old couple sitting behind us were horrified by the whole thing – including one moment at the end when the audience booed the conservative government, and I tend to judge the innovative success rate of any production based on how horrified traditional old people are.
All in all, I'm happy that we went and I'm tempted to tag along on A's next Shakespeare trip... at least to London... to see what else Emma Rice does next summer.
The day after we got back from Zürich, A and I headed to Fribourg to visit his grandparents. They invited us to stay with them and show us around their city an entire year ago, so needless to say, our trip was a bit overdue... but with A spending last autumn in York, the general craziness of the spring and the summer travels, finding a time that worked for everyone was harder than it probably should have been. I'm so glad we finally managed though because the trip was lovely and getting to know his grandparents a bit better was wonderful. I've really appreciated seeing more of A's family over the past few weeks. He comes from such a well-adjusted, loving, and engaging family that it's not only gratifying to see where he gets certain qualities but also quite honestly comforting to see that such families exist.
I had meetings for most of the day in Geneva the day we went out to Fribourg, so we didn't arrive until dinner time, but we got up and headed out to explore the city the next morning with A's grandmother. Below are some of the photos I took during our walk:
On our last afternoon in Zürich, Rory and A and I met up with A's aunt, uncle, and cousin at the Kunsthaus. After spending three days mostly surrounded by medieval and early modern visual culture, I was ready to see more modern art and wander around looking at pieces I actually recognized. Of course, we ended up taking more time in the medieval rooms anyway, but I still got some time with Van Gogh and Monet, so all was okay.
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I'm Olivia, a twenty-six year old grad student studying in Switzerland. This is where I share my thoughts on the academic journey, culture, travels, baking, and my daily life abroad. Read More.