My Unconquerable Soul (The National Gallery of Art)

“I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul”

Invictus by William Ernest Henley

“The Waterlily Pond” Claude Monet

I have always appreciated paintings, but I don’t believe I ever really was absorbed by them until I visited the National Gallery of Art in Trafalgar Square in London.   How does one describe the experience of seeing great works of art that have been around for hundreds of years?  How does one describe the reality of finally seeing a real Monet for the first time when a print of it has hung on your wall for years?

I think I can only describe it as a sort of reverence.  Masterful pieces of art, hanging on the walls in front of me, surviving centuries of mankind is a symbol of the beautiful endurance of the soul.

Degas
Degas

Degas, Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat…these are names I have grown up with.  Listening to lectures in school, perusing my mother’s books and looking at prints of these paintings were always nice, but I never had more than a casual interest in them.

When I wandered, by chance, into The National Gallery of Art one cold, rainy winter’s day, I found a new appreciation for these paintings.  It had not been the best of days.  Something I had greatly hoped would happen did not appear and I was feeling a little empty and discouraged.  To keep warm and rest for a little while, I walked into the museum and began to wander aimlessly among the crowds.  I sat down in the first room I could find that had space.  I sighed and then I looked up.  I was immediately struck by the immense size and vibrant colors of the paintings.  As I sat there and looked around, I began to feel a sort of awe.

Pierre August Renoir
Pierre August Renoir

Wandering from room to room, my spirits lifted when I realized that I was among the presence of the some of the greatest artists of history. Standing there, gazing into the purples and blues of a Monet or looking at the brush strokes of a Renoir masterpiece, I began to understand that the paintings themselves were imbued with the very spirit of the painter.

I then realized that these paintings had volumes of lessons to teach me.  Patience, endurance, and beauty were just a few of them.  It was almost as if they were speaking “Here I am.  I have withstood centuries of wars, disasters, violence, sadness and the cruelty of mankind to stand before you today as a legacy that beauty is what survives. Though the painter is gone, I stand unconquered.”

Altarpiece from the 1300's
Altarpiece from the 1300’s

It is a lesson that seeps slowly into the soul.  With the passage of time, the events and moments that are remembered most are the moments of courage, strength, beauty and love.

I wandered out of the museum and stood at the entrance overlooking Trafalgar Square.  Artists, students, tourists and workers crossed paths in the business of life.  As I stood there watching the crowds mingle, I realized that I carried with me a new set of eyes.  The masters of the past had reminded me, yet again, to find beauty in the present.  Life…with all its messiness, uncertainty and confusion, is wonderful.

As the rains departed and the last rays of the setting sun colored the sky in gold, rose and deep blue, I smiled.  The emptiness and discouragement were gone and I raised a silent thank you to the heavens for my unconquerable soul.

The National Gallery of Art
The National Gallery of Art

La Bottega del Caffe – It’s a no

Bottega Sign

I was recently shopping on Oxford street and found myself wandering up Regent Street just to take in the sites. I was hungry and though McDonald’s was pulling at me, I felt that I needed to partake of the many fascinating and different restaurants that London has to offer.  I was attracted by the display window of La Bottega del Caffe.   The food looked delicious, it was full of people and the decor was modern and simple.

Bottega decor

The employees were friendly and helpful and after glancing at their menu and offerings (which were a bit on the pricey side), I ordered a mozzarella, avocado and mortadella sandwich on baguette bread.  The employee offered to make it into a panini for me and I happily agreed.  I love toasted sandwiches!

The problems started after it was done.   Instead of bringing the plate to the sandwich, the employee carried the sandwich in tongs to the plate, thereby dropping half of the fillings out onto the floor.  She dismantled another sandwich and put the fillings back into my sandwich (which kind of defeated the purpose of toasting it in the first place).  She ended up doing  this twice repeating the same mistake, instead of realizing that it might be better to bring the plate to the sandwich.  But after two attempts, she finally got the sandwich onto the plate and handed it to me.

I then went to order a small dessert, choosing a wrapped crust filled with what looked like yellow custard.  The employee put it on a plate that was too large for the small dessert and as I tried to balance the tray and pay for my food, the dessert slipped off onto the floor.  (It was one of THOSE days.)  She kindly offered me another one and I finally made it to my table without any more mishaps.

Unfortunately, the food was very much a let-down.  The sandwich was plain and fairly tasteless. There were no sauces or even a little bit of salt to bring out the flavor.  And mortadella is really just another word for bologna, which I don’t like, so it was a disappointment.  I tried the dessert and was even more frustrated when I found out it was just yellow frosting wrapped inside a plain sugar cookie that tasted like it was made with shortening.

Meal

When reviewing places to eat, I have to be honest.  McDonald’s would have tasted better.  But I have to give everyone a fair chance, so I might try this place again on another day with different food to see if it’s worth it.  At this point, I would give it a thumbs down, but I’m always willing to give people and places a second chance.  Here’s hoping!

Patisserie Deux Amis – French Deliciousness!

I stumbled upon this charming and small cafe while staying at a nearby hostel.  I stopped in one morning for breakfast since I had plenty of time and nowhere to run to. I am so glad I did!

Patisserie Duex Amis exterior
Patisserie Duex Amis exterior

With classical music in the background, softly inviting decor and perfect pastries displayed in tantalizing arrangements, I felt transported to a Parisian cafe with all its European flavor.  I did have a bit of trouble with the small seats as I am not a svelte size 2, but soon enough, I had myself comfortably arranged.

Patisserie Deux Amis interior
Patisserie Deux Amis interior

I ordered the mushroom and spinach quiche, the almond chocolate croissant and tea. Beautifully presented, I paused a moment, joyfully taking in the surroundings and the food on the table.  It was a feast for the eyes and a lift to my spirits.

I bit into the quiche and though the taste was satisfying, it was cold and I’m used to eating my quiche hot.  Next time I will just have to remember to ask them to warm the quiche, because yes, my friends, there WILL be a next time…even if it’s just for the croissants!

Mouth watering chocolate almond croissant and quiche!
Mouth watering chocolate almond croissant and quiche!

I have heard of people rave over French croissants for as long as I can remember.  I couldn’t understand why as I’ve had some very good croissants in the states, but I could live without them.  NOW I understand!  The subtle almond and chocolate flavoring were like a mixture of heaven in my mouth.  The croissant was flaky, light and buttery, but not oily.  It was just the right amount of sweetness and oh my goodness, I’ve seldom had a dessert that tasted that good!  (My mouth is watering right now remembering the taste.)

Inexpensive, delicious and beautiful…my three favorite words when it comes to any meal!  And Patisserie Deux Amis delivered on all three!  I highly recommend this charming, quiet cafe for all my readers!

Patisserie Deux Amis

63 Judd Street London WC1H 9QT

020 7383 7029

Tea and Scones at Ma Battley’s Tearoom

Ma Battley's Tearoom
Ma Battley’s Tearoom

On an overcast, rainy, very cold February day, I was walking down the street in Enfield (another suburb of London) running errands.  I had forgotten my gloves and my hands were numb from the biting rain.  I still wasn’t used to the cold humidity of a London winter and I felt the wind cutting through my overcoat.  All I could think about was getting warm.  I hadn’t planned on eating out, but I was tired and hungry.

I had walked no more than a block when I, literally, almost stumbled upon a sidewalk sign advertising Ma Battley’s Tearoom (Yes, I can be a bit clumsy sometimes).  I glanced up and saw an old-fashioned candy store with a variety of delicious sweets gracing the window display. It said Traditional English Sweet Shop and I, with my unhealthy addiction to just about anything sweet, seemed as if I had stumbled onto a bit of heaven.

Stepping into the colorful warmth of a sweet shop, there was such a contrast to the gray drizzle outside that I instantly began to feel better.  The woman behind the counter (Ma Battley herself?) called out a cheery “hallooo!” and I responded with a smile and asked where the tearoom was.  She pointed upstairs, so I made my way through the sweet shop and upstairs to a medium sized-room filled with pink and white checkered tables and a row of windows at one end.

I sat by the white lace curtained windows and glanced over the room.  It was simply decorated in a Country Victorian theme, but without an ounce of pretense.  I felt almost as if I had wandered into someone’s kitchen and was sitting at their kitchen table instead of a formal restaurant, and yet it felt just right.

I glanced over the menu and it was filled with simple, but delicious items such as Jacket Potatoes and sandwiches.  But on this bleak, wet day, sitting in a London tearoom, what else could I order but tea with scones and clotted cream?  What could be more classically British than that?  When it was presented to me, it made such an artistic picture that I had to photograph it.

Tea and Scones at Ma Battley's Tearoom
Tea and Scones at Ma Battley’s Tearoom

The picture didn’t last long, though, as I slathered my currant scone with jam and Devon clotted cream.  Oh my goodness…I had no idea that cream could have the texture of silk!  The sweetness of the jam and the texture of the cream were a perfect accompaniment to the berry-flavored tea.  My hands finally began to thaw after holding the teacup for a while and I sat there and savored the moment.  No wonder the tradition of afternoon tea is so loved by the British!  Not only was the food delightful, but just the feeling of hot tea melting away your cares was so beautifully relaxing.  I smiled to myself as I thought what a happy cliche I made.  Afternoon tea and scones on a rainy day in London…another dream come true for this wandering wallflower.

http://www.mabattleys.com/

Sunday Morning Bells

Sunday Morning view of Loughton, Essex, England
Sunday Morning view of Loughton, Essex, England

I meander slowly up a neighboring hill on a cool, sunny, spring Sunday morning in Loughton, Essex.  I pause for a moment to enjoy the view overlooking this quaint, old town.  My town…home.  I take in everything from the rows of brick homes on the distant hillside to the budding branches of a tree near me.  The air shimmers and the translucent light springs lightly from rooftop to tree branch to the wet grass at my feet. To my left is an empty, green cricket field and to my right, a 200 year old mansion restored to full splendor. The wind is brisk and I breathe in the glorious sweetness of it.

Nothing will move me from this spot as I am filled with wonder. How did I get here? How did I get from my small town in Utah to this charming suburb of London, England?   I pause to remember the hard work, sacrifice from others, faith and lots of prayers it took me to get here…and I am filled with so much gratitude and joy that I wish I could share it with the world. And suddenly, as if on cue, distant church bells ring out across the hills.

And there it is…a reminder of how I came to be here.  I was meant to be here.  This place has been calling to my soul for many years.  It took time for me to hear the call and time for everything to fall into place just right, but it did and I am at peace.

And so it begins…this new adventure and chapter of my life.  This blog will be filled with my adventures of the everyday (and the not-so-everyday) experiences.  I feel I am on the cusp of the best part of my life and I am brimming with excitement at what it will bring.  The wallflower has finally blossomed and she turns her face up to drink in the sun.