Wednesday, June 29, 2016

...Another opportunity for deepening... ~ Buddhist thought for the day

"As a basis for change, we need to recognize that as long as we live in this world,
we will encounter problems, things that obstruct the fulfillment of our goals. If, when these happen, we lose hope and become discouraged, we diminish our ability to face these difficulties. If, on the other hand, we remember that not just we but everyone has to undergo suffering, this more realistic perspective will increase our determination and our capacity to overcome troubles. By remembering the suffering of others, by feeling compassion for others, our own suffering becomes manageable. Indeed, with this attitude, each new obstacle can be seen as yet another valuable opportunity to improve our mind, another opportunity for deepening our compassion! With each new experience, we can strive gradually to become more compassionate; that is, we can develop both genuine sympathy for others' suffering and the will to help remove their pain. As a result, our own serenity and inner strength will increase."  
~ His Holiness the Dalai Lama
(from The Compassionate Life)

Every day, it's another headline, another spiral, 
another argument online between sides. 
And I keep looking for ways to make sense of it all;
ways to give despair some meaning beyond hopelessness,
somewhere more opportunities for deepening. 

There are so many arguments 
that may seem to make sense in our rage 
but really only add more flame to the fire. 

This thing that fuels understanding...
this thing that makes us see with our heart...
that makes step outside of ourselves...
that gives us a sense of peace.

(Photo copyright: Kirsten Steen)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Florence Annunciation

While traveling awhile back,
I collected Annunciations for a client and friend who loved them.
And somewhere along my path of collecting them around Europe,
they have become my favorite as well. 

In keeping with our theme of Italy
for the setting of my novel,
this one is in Florence, Italy.

I love the cornucopia surrounding the scene
and the colorful wings of the angel Gabriel. 
He is often depicted holding the Madonna Lily
(Lilium Candidum)
which is thought to be the basis of the Fleur de Lis
as well as the symbol for Florence.
How fitting! 

I also love that in this depiction,
the Madonna is not putting her hand up
as she is in so many.
Often to me it looks like she is saying "Oh no, I couldn't possibly!"
or "Forget it, do you have any idea what that means?" 

In this one, it looks almost as if her hand is over her heart.

A Greek friend of ours,
who survived a very deadly form of cancer,
looks at every single day as a gift.
And when I see these depictions,
it reminds me to see every day as a gift from God and the universe
,,, for all of us. 

How will we use it?!  

(Photo copyright: Kirsten Steen)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Baptistry Mosaics

As promised,
here are photos of the interior of 
the octagonal Baptistry in Florence from last week.

Oh to be in Florence again! 
I know of an author who rents herself an apartment 
in whichever country she happens to be setting her next novel
and then spends that month writing there. 
One of my future goals! 

And actually, that's why I'm posting photos of Florence,
because part of my novel is set there
and this way we can feel like we're there. 

I love that most of these photos and mosaics
depict angels in them. 

The scene below, of course, needs no explanation.

Can you imagine being responsible for putting all of these tiny mosaics in place?! 

I'm setting up a schedule 
to try to get my novel ready for Beta Readers this summer.
I'm NOT a puzzle person
but writing a novel feels a little like trying to place all the mosaics
in all the right places,
fitting all the correct colors with the right scenes
but without too much rigidity
and more than a splash of imagination.
There's a structured whole yet with individual chapters and scenes
which must have their own flavor and color,
textures and tapestries.

And I'm teaching myself novel writing as I go
so I especially appreciate this last mosaic
of an angel bringing information
during sleep. 

I'm working on the last little bits
of trying to make this book puzzle work
and will take all the help I can get. 

(All Photos copyright: Kirsten Steen)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Bronze doors of the Baptistry in Florence

So while my novel put me in Florence
thought I'd share a couple of exterior photos of the Baptistry. 

The above are the North Doors
created by Lorenzo Ghiberti.
These were originally the East Doors but moved to the North side.
Ghiberti was 21 when he won the competition 
(beating out Brunelleschi!)
and began the commission of the gilded bronze doors
which took him 21 years to finish. 

The first two are the Annunciation (always my favorite)
and the Nativity. 

The doors to the Baptistry are what Michelangelo called
The Gates of Paradise. 

Dante and the members of the Medici family,
as well as most Catholic Florentines,
were baptized in the Baptistry of St. John,
--an octagonal basilica in the Piazza del Duomo 
just next to the main Florence Cathedral--
and was built between 1059 and 1128.

Buried within the quatrefoil,
Ghiberti included plants and insects known to be harmful.
In Medieval thinking,
that was a way of keeping evil away.

Next time a few photos of the 
gorgeous mosaics that make up the ceiling of the interior.

(Photo copyright: Kirsten Steen)
(Info via Wiki)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Ponte Vecchio sunset

Recently I spent a week at my writing retreat on the Oregon Coast
and immersed myself in novel writing
... which put me in Italy. 

So as promised,
here is a bridge view in Florence.
My novel's love interests end up at a villa
overlooking one of my favorite cities in Italy
while they try to save civilization 
from foreign and domestic terrorism. 

Btw, I LOVE how these old bridges
still have shops ON them.
And in medieval times,
people actually lived in houses on the bridge. 
Oh, Florence!
Be still my heart.

(Here's another shot in Florence
from awhile back.)

Next week, Venice!

(Photo copyright: Kirsten Steen)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Eiffel Tower pond

Another tiny slice of Paris today
cause as always, I'm missing it.
But also because, like last time,
I'm giving you a small glimpse into my novel-in-progress.

My last post showed the Champs de Mars cave
where my protagonists (also love interests) spent some time.
And this is the view back across the duck pond 
to the base of the Eiffel Tower 
where they dance together. 

And tomorrow we'll get a little glimpse of Florence, Italy
where they end up chasing suspense.
And next week Venice. 
Til then,
A bientot.

(Photo copyright: Kirsten Steen) 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Cave in Champs de Mars

Another quick visit 
just a snapshot or two
of the cave 
that my protagonist and 
her love interest visit
in my novel
which I'm getting ready for beta readers. 

This location is a little man-made cave
which sits on a tiny pond
just next to the base of the Eiffel Tower.

Trying to get some inspiration 
for a scene I'm trying to finish. 
Thanks for coming with me. 

(Photos copyright: Kirsten Steen)

Monday, April 4, 2016

Cafe near Notre Dame

Just a quick stop in today 
to post one of my favorite photos  
with the light and color of the cafe in the foreground
and dark, quiet Notre Dame in the background. 

Spring has sprung in the Pacific Northwest
and while I love it,
I'm wishing I could be there to roam the streets of Paris
in early spring.

Happy Spring to you!

(Photo Copyright: Kirsten Steen)

Monday, March 28, 2016

American Library in Paris presents: Robert Roper, Nabokov in America

Vladimir Nabokov 1969b.jpg
Vladimir Nabokov, Montreux, October 1969.
By Giuseppe Pino (Mondadori Publishers)

This Wednesday, March 30th, 2016 at 19:30, ALP presents Robert Roper speaking on his book, Nabokov in America: On the Road to Lolita. 

Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times review says, "Mr. Roper does an expert job of tracing Nabokov's summertime peregrinations about the west and their translation into the pointillist descriptions of Humbert and Lolita's travels in 'Lolita' (which Christopher Isherwood once called 'the best travel book ever written about America.'")

Lidija Haas in her Guardian review says, "Nabokov liked all sorts of things about his adopted country, its trashy cultural ephemera as well as its natural beauty, its openness but also its odd conservatism in which he perhaps sensed a different kind of opportunity ('what charms me personally about American civilisation,' he wrote to his agent before the move, 'is exactly that old-world touch, that old-fashioned something which clings to it despite the hard glitter, and hectic nightlife, and up-to-date bathrooms'). His delight in it is beguiling, as is the image Roper offers of him as a particular kind of immigrant." 

Roper is the author of several other books including his fiction novels: The Savage Professor, The Trespassers, Mexico Days, On Spider Creek, Royo County Tales, Cuervo Tales, In Caverns of Blue Ice. His other books include: Now the Drum of War and Fatal Mountaineer.

His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The LA Times, National Geographic, Outside, Men's Journal, Rock and Ice, Climbing and The American Scholar.

The American Library in Paris  is located at:
10, rue du General Camou
(Just off the Champs de Mars and the Eiffel Tower)
75007 Paris, France
• Tel. +33 (0)1 53 59 12 60
Regular operating hours: Tue-Fri: 10h-19h (Thurs til 22h00)
Sat: 10-19h00, Sun: 13h00-19h00. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Evangelistria Monastiraki


The big white monastery on the hill next to Palamidi, the Venetian fortress keeping guard over Nafplion, always seems to glisten in the sun from anywhere in town. Maybe it's the mosaics of biblical scenes catching the light that greet you from either side of the front door. Standing in the large front courtyard, one could be distracted here for an hour before ever going inside, held by the stunning views over the red-tiled rooftops of the Old and New Towns, out to the bay and beyond.

If possible, the view becomes even more picturesque by the small bell tower perched on the edge of the parking lot between the church and its precipice. The details of the church interior itself, beyond the mosaics and the front door, are a lost memory to me. It's most likely hiding in one of the trillions of unmarked boxes of similar lost memories in that ludicrously large and ever-growing warehouse in my mind which somewhere holds the true chronology of my fragmented childhood and the exact shade of my grandmother's eyes.


What holds firm in my mind is the long, narrow room next to the chapel's entrance, an open door at one end inviting you in... if you're not afraid of flickering darkness. Built against the rock, the back wall is a series of natural boulders. You realize as you enter that it's not truly dark but lit by candles lovingly placed along the stone ledges covered with countless icons of the beloved Mary and her son. The candlelight bestows magic on them...or is that just their own magical quality that enthralls much of our planet?

St. George is here also, ever-slaying the formidable dragon as in every church and altar across modern Greece. I've visited this stone altar several times and each time with the same sense of awe. Maybe it's the natural stone contours that slope down into the long narrow chamber. Maybe it's the care and prayer with which the "room" glows with candles lit by loving hands and those icons of Mary and Jesus standing upright along the boulder's craggy dips and ledges.


That awed feeling is reproduced from anywhere I can see the monastery in town, from where we sit eating lunch in the New Town's "Take Out Chicken Place", so called by us because the sign is all in Greek leaving us no idea how to describe it when recommending or trying to decide on a lunch venue. That feeling is reproduced as I sit in warm sunshine at its sidewalk tables in front of one of the New Town's three busiest roadways. I can see the monastery looking across the street and over the top of a massive skeleton of a bare-bones building never finished, these which endlessly dot modern Greece's urban and rural landscapes alike. Up the hill to the white monastiraki, the flickering dark-light altar haunts me...even while I consume roasted chicken and potato rounds layered in devilishly-creamy lemon gravy, Ed's favorite sweet cabbage salad, wilted wild greens picked by Greek women and my favorite Greek salad with tzatziki... all washed down with a crisp, tender white wine of the region. The magic of that altar beams at me from the mosaics glinting in the sun... which spills into the food on my plate... which spills into me... which infiltrates my thoughts. That magic makes my very cells seem to shimmer with the beauty of it. Or is that the wine?

I watch the monastiraki for as long as I can see it on our walk home. We dodge the New Town's typical Greek traffic which has very few rules beyond the main rule of "Me First". As we walk, we contemplate an after-lunch nap...Or a walk around the bottom of  akronafplia from one end of the Old Town to the other...Or a trip to our favorite bakery for the dark-brown bread sticks rolled in sunflower seeds which we'll have for dinner later with a piece of fruit after our decadent (and huge) lunch...Or a drive out to the tiny white and blue church along the water's cliff side. Here, past Evangelistria and beyond the big beach a few miles outside of town, down a short trail past the parking lot and in another dark chapel overlooking the sea, St. George is again saving the day. I don't have to be afraid of flickering dark-light...because I know that at every such altar, St. George will be there.

(Photos copyright: Kirsten Steen)

Monday, March 7, 2016

Nos Ancetres les Gaulois

When we first started coming to Paris many moons ago,
we were taken to a fun little place on the Ile St. Louis
called Nos Ancetres les Gaulois. 

By Paris standards, it would be called simple food
but it is fun for the buck (er...euro). 

The interior is a step back in time
to Our Gaul Ancestors.
You are led to bulky wooden tables and chairs
lined together and set family-style.
The floors and walls are rough stone,
ancient tools hanging nearby 
and timbered ceilings add to the medieval atmosphere. 

For a fixed price (now 40 euros),
you are given a small pitcher (pichet)
and directed to the wine cask
filled with a red Bordeaux
to refill as often and as much as you like. 
The starter is a basket of fresh veggies (crudites)
with a paring knife at your place setting...
and a small buffet holds several French salads
like the carrot rappee, julienned celeriac and piles of saucisson.

A waiter takes your meat order,
beef, lamb or chicken cooked in the nearby wood-fired, stone fireplace.
A cheese plate ends every French meal
as well as a seasonal fruit basket,
 dessert and coffee.

And while you eat,
a festive and raucous wandering troubadour
will produce any song requested,
for the price of a glass of wine from your pichet,
  and have the entire restaurant many different languages.

Started as a poetry and song club in 1969 in a medieval cellar,
the restaurant now includes 7 rooms and 300 seats
all situated in the very heart of where Paris began centuries ago.
Step back in time with a medieval experience
for the modern day traveler.

Click Here to see inside. 
Hover over the photo,
then left click and move around the room. 

39, Rue Saint- Louis en I'lle
75004 Paris France

Open every day from 7pm-1am
Now also lunch 12-3.

(Photo copyright: Kirsten Steen)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

New cafe at Arvanitia Beach in Nafplion

Trying to get back to working on some new Greece articles
for my critique group. 
So thought going through some photos would help. 
Plus I miss it so. 

The above is the view from one of our favorite walks in Nafplion
with the beach just out of view on the right.

This summer we were only there for a mere few days
(in between Provence and Paris)
and being there in June rather than December 
was magnificently heavenly. 

The Chef's vacation usually comes in winter
when things are quiet on his job sites.
But this year, we got some time during the gorgeous early summer weather. 

Normally this little beach is a quiet place where many of 
the locals come daily for a swim in the morning before the winds pick up
and to catch up on the local gossip. 

This June a new cafe opened at the beach
and with it...what looked like Club Med! 

We've never seen it looking so alive
and filled with beautiful touches.
You could literally park yourself on a lounge chair
for the price of an iced tea (or ouzo)
and stay all day. 

For those few days,
we started and ended each day there.
I even swam in the water for the first time
(the last time I tried, a baby squid chased me around 
until I finally ran out of the water and gave up.) 

And just above the beach, our favorite walk. 

Did I mention I so miss this?

Hope to get back when the new cafe is still open for high season.
And park ourselves on the beach with a good book, sunscreen,
some writing material...
and dips in the Mediterranean. 

(All photos copyright: Kirsten Steen)

Friday, December 25, 2015

Mary Magdalene's Cave in Provence, Part 1

     (My favorite scene right outside my bedroom door)

My partner and I had hoped this past late spring to make the 45 DAY pilgrimage through France and Spain along the Camino to Santiago de Compostela but work had kept him too busy. I was spending two weeks in Provence with family so decided to make the 45 MINUTE  pilgrimage to Mary Magdalene's cave (the time it takes from the Hostellerie up the mountain path to the cave) on my own.
                                                        I was off on an adventure to La Baume...BY MYSELF!

The story is that after Christ's death, Mary, with several others, set sail on a small boat (actually one legend says they were set afloat with no sails or oars) landing in the South of France where they spread the teachings of Christ. Mary is said to have lived the remaining 30 years of her life in the cave of La Baume. 

So this summer, from my family's rented compound (an exquisite mini-chateau built in the 1600's...and pigeon house from the 1100's...near Blauvac,) I headed for the cave and my own private pilgrimage. 

After a few hours of driving myself through the south of France, (I am not usually the driver in our travels) getting lost, stuck in Aix, backtracking, driving in circles, stopping for lunch and asking directions (received in the form of a drawn map on the table's white paper-covering from the only waiter to speak English,) I finally checked in to the Hostellerie de la Sainte-Baume, an abbey run by the Dominicans now caring for La Baume. Whew! Realizing there was enough time to get to the cave that afternoon before it closed for the evening, I quickly unpacked a few things in the small, sparse room with a view of the nuns quarters and courtyard, repacked a small backpack, grabbed a little sweater just in case, and made my way toward the path.

View from my room.

At the trail's entrance, I found a long meandering walk around the field or the straight path directly toward the forest. I walked the straight path along a field of white butterflies alighting over nearly every bladed and leafed surface. When I entered the forest, the path went both left and right. I stood looking both ways, hoping for a sign that would tell me which way to go.  An older French gentleman stood talking to a young couple nearby, his feet in hiking shoes, a backpack over his shoulders.

As I stood feeling the familiar doubt that said I would end up going the wrong way, the gentleman approached me and told me in French that the left was the easier path and the right the harder one with stairs to climb but either way… 'c'est magnifique!' Thanking him, I started on the path to the right, grateful for my 'sign' that had actually approached me, literally 'telling' me the way to go.

Excited to get to this place I'd only seen and read about online and exhilarated and proud to be making the trip alone, I began the walk, taking the stone-terraced steps, working to raise my vibration as I climbed higher up the mountain. With each step, I thanked God, Mary Magdalene and the universe for getting me here, grateful for every single circumstance that had put me right here on this path with no one else to rely on or think of as I made my journey to my own experience, my own pilgrimage. I became a walking meditation of gratitude, working to be worthy of, and vibrate high enough, for whatever I found at the top

Warm air and birdsong filled the forest and soon my little sweater was tied around my waist, the balmy weather making me sweat on the trail. When I arrived at the first doorway and real set of steps, a plaque to the left of the door told of the different religious orders who had cared for the cave over the centuries. From a source online, I'd been surprised to learn that Kings had made this pilgrimage in past centuries to pray to Mary Magdalene. Now I was stunned to find that, according to the plaque, a religious order I'd never even heard of began caring for the cave in her name in the 400's. Two more sects had taken it over after them, the last being the Dominicans. People of devout faith had been walking these same paths hoping to be worthy for over 1600 years.

These first steps opened up to a landing under the rock with statues in a scene of the crucifixion and beside it a garden of statuary ruins. 

 Further steps led to the courtyard outside the cave with a magnificent view, another statue and small buildings built into the rock. Yet another set led from the courtyard into the cave itself,  the entrance covered with a wall, stained glass windows and set of double doors.

View from the courtyard outside the cave.

I heard music coming from inside and realized I had arrived during the middle of a service which was my first realization that the cave is used just like a church with services every day and holidays.

 I inched my way in, hoping not to disturb the service. Seating myself at a pew near the open door, I sat listening to the service in French while craning my neck to see as much of the cave as I could from my spot.

Looking out from my pew.

 In front of the pews stood a large, stone altar with a statue of Christ on the cross and the Magdalene in prayer at his feet. To the left of the altar along a raised, rocky surface, a statue of Archangel Michael and another of the Magdalene. Everywhere candles glowed in front of the statues, each in lighted prayer.

Altar inside the cave.

After marveling awhile at the service and now anxious to see the rest of the cave, I began to worry about taking photos with the time I had and that my photo flashes would offend those assembled for religious worship. Within moments of this thought, the service ended and the priest and entire, small congregation left the cave.  I was alone.

I wandered toward the back where I found another statue of Mary Magdalene with angels and more lit candles. And along the cave wall, a magnificent blue and gold container holding the relics of Mary Magdalene.


 I had read online that the reliquary, decorated with lovely gilded angels, holds a piece of the tibia of Mary and a lock of her hair.  Religious orders are notorious for exaggerating the truth about its precious relics and fabricating particular bone's importance when in need of money so who knows for sure?  But these relics are brought down to the town and paraded through the crowds every July 22nd, Mary Magdalene's Feast Day. They have, in fact, traveled their own pilgrimages to different parts of the world in order for large crowds to be near them.

I ran around the cave taking photos while I was alone and found myself standing in front of a chained-off stairway to the lower level. Before I could even think, "I wish I could see what's down there," another robed priest burst through a nearby door adjoining the cave, leading to what must have been the Priest's quarters built into the rock. He hurried straight to the stairway I stood in front of, unchained it and waved me entrance to go down. His actions were as swift and perfectly-timed as the elderly gentleman at the beginning of the path giving me directions. I thanked him, descended below and wandered the lower level with more lit candles and a small altar flanked with mini, potted olive trees. Near the end of the wall, plastic orange fencing tried to keep pilgrims away from a walled off water source. But the fencing had been torn back, offering a tiny entrance to the small pool of run-off.

After sweating profusely on the climb up the mountain, my thin sweater was now of little use against the natural cold of the cave. I could see my breath in the air. Back up on the main level and within 15-20 minutes of having the place to myself (just the amount of time I'd needed to get a few photos,) both priests and two others from the earlier service arrived for Vespers.

As I seated myself again at the pews nearest the cave's entrance (at a slanted perpendicular direction from the altar, with views of both the altar and cave and out the door to the courtyard overlooking the vast terrain and view below,) the four of them began some of the most gorgeous singing which rang throughout the cave. As I listened, a storm gathered outside, throwing a light rain and hurling its thunderous voice inside and out.

The beauty of the singing and the storm's thunder echoing each other pierced my soul so achingly, at one point I feared I might sob out loud. I looked toward the only other woman in the cave, one of the three of the congregation, and found her face covered by her hand as her shoulders rocked up and down.

On the path.

When Vespers was over, I had just enough time to get down the mountain to make the family-style dinner the nuns serve daily at the Abbey. The storm delivered enough rain that I was freezing as I made my way down, practically running, my little sweater again providing no protection against the cold after a couple of hours in the cave and now a wind and rainstorm. But the beauty and the magic of my experience kept me smiling. And one day soon, I'll continue the story of my first ever pilgrimage...on my own. 

For now, let me wish all a very Merry Christmas. This seemed the perfect day to finally post about the location of Mary Magdalene's alleged final resting place. 

Happy Holydays.

'It may be that the satisfaction I need depends on my going away, so that when I've gone and come back, I'll find it at home.'

(All Photos Copyright: Kirsten Steen. Please do not reproduce.)