Wednesday, December 17, 2014

'Tis the Season to be Jolly

I have been taking it easy and not really putting in any effort to make new cards or do much else. I had to snap out of that zone for an order of holiday cards in just a few days. I had some ideas in mind to make them that seemed easy and quick - but in reality, I could only squeeze in 3-4 cards per day. But they came out well, and I was happy with the results.

These cards were made from buttons and bows. Although the buttons were easy to stick to paper, the beads had to sewn. And to make sure the thread didn't unravel, I glued the line of stitch on the inside.

These tiny crystals were a boon - they come in a variety of colours and are easy to stick onto most surfaces. The Snowflakes seemed easy, but I was working with 4x4 inch origami paper which left me little room to manoeuvre. The key is to get the fold of the paper right - they are 6-sided.

Since I was short on time, I also revamped some of my earlier cards to make them seem a little more festive.

Ribbons and fabric borders make life much simpler. My Sakura metallic pens kept losing their sheen mid-way which was very annoying. I had to set them upright for a while before I could use them again to complete the card.

Finally, what's Christmas without the trees. The one on the left is made with cut-outs from some wrapping paper. The middle one is a cut-out from origami paper of 3 types of greens stuck together to make it 'come alive'. The last one is obviously glitter with Washi tape gift boxes.

These were fun to make, and now equipped with more variety of coloured card stock, I am looking for more designs I can put to paper.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Growing Lemongrass from Stalk

Recently I tried making a lemongrass cooler at home and it turned out refreshing. I also learned that I could easily grow my own batch of lemongrass with the store-bought stalks.

I took 2 stalks, chopped off the green leaves, and removed the tough outer layers of the stalk without damaging the root. These I kept in a glass filled with 2 inches of water which I changed everyday.

Within a week, the stalks started sprouting some roots which made me very happy. I then planted it in soil. In another 10 days it started sprouting baby stalks from the old stalks. I was ecstatic. I would be making a batch of lemongrass cooler in another 2 weeks with home-grown produce.

One thing I failed to consider though was my cat. I would have assumed that citrus would repel him but apparently Lemongrass has a catnip-like effect on most cats. Who knew?

I'm still hoping that some more sprouts appear. I can keep it out of kitty reach for it to grow enough to accommodate both our needs. Or it will be back to square one.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Re-fashioned Top

I've had this light knit pullover for a while now and have barely worn it twice because it clings to all the wrong curves and it's neck is very deep. I, with my very limited sewing skills, decided to make it wearable by extending the width and length with some fabric. I figured even if I ruin it, it wasn't getting used anyway - all I'll lose is a the time spent.

The fabric I used for the extension panels was a small silk scarf that I've had for ages and had barely been used too.

First thing I did was cut off the bottom 2 inches and the sides till the arm pit. I also cut 2 strips of 3 inches each for the length of the sides. These strips were then pinned to the sides to keep them in place while stitching.

Mistake 1: Knit and silk are very difficult fabrics to work with, especially for a first timer. One keeps stretching and the other won't stay still! Even though I measured the exact length of the side from armpit to bottom and pinned the fabric so it would be in place, while sewing the knit fabric stretched so the strip didn't go all the way to the top. Thankfully I had started sewing from the bottom and it wasn't a big gap near the armpit so I could just close the remaining part without any extra material.

Mistake 2: I didn't realise that if I am not also extending the arm hole, the side extension will not be the same width top to bottom, rather a triangle of sorts.

Next, I cut 2 long strips for the extension at the bottom. The strip for the back was an inch longer than the one for the front. I also remembered to keep the strip longer so that even with the knit stretching, I will have enough to go around.

I used the edges of the scarf for these strips so that I would only need to hem one side which would not be seen from the outside. The sides would also need to be hemmed in so that it doesn't look shabby. These I attached to the bottom of the pullover.

That took care of the length and width of the top. Next was the deep neck. I looked at different options like ribbons or a strip of the same fabric tucked behind the neckline, but they didn't look very convincing. I finally settled for small rosettes which are super easy to make.

The sleeves I shortened and left unfinished. The knit just rolls up at the edges so you don't see a frayed line.

Here's the finished product.
Although it is nice to wear something you've made, it was too much of a hassle and it was't as neat as I would've liked. If I can find a tailor to do this, I would hand it over without a second thought.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Thoughts on Weddings

Weddings are amazing! No matter how cynical the world seems to get, and how much ever the ceremony is derided as just a piece of paper, it has not lost its popularity.

We just returned from my sister's beautiful wedding ceremony and it was all we had hoped it would be. It was classy, filled with love and happiness, and the families got to know each other sharing laughs and stories.

Theirs was a story with a happily ever after, but once the wedding fever has died down and you get your heads out of the clouds, there are too many who reminisce about the happy days pre-wedding. The only people who cannot think of going back to those days are those who are over dependent on their partner (financially, socially, or at home), and those who married the right person for the right reasons at the right time!

You wouldn't want to be so dependent on someone that you cannot function without them, but oh to be in a great marriage! You cannot imagine a future without your partner, but you know that you don't need them to fulfil a purpose. You just want them around.

There are people who marry because they were turning 30, because it was expected, because they have always dreamed of a wedding, or they wanted someone to look after them. However, I also know of people who marry because they've been great friends who fell in love, because they just knew for certain that they were the right fit, and because they couldn't imagine being so comfortable and in love with anyone else.

I am blessed to fall in the latter category, and from what I observe, my sisters do as well. Shouldn't everybody?

With everyone trying to one-up their acquaintances on social media, wedding are becoming more extravagant, sometimes ridiculously so. There are many who look forward their entire lives to a perfect wedding and never give a thought of the marriage that comes after.

A wedding is a celebration of love and a meeting of families and friends. It is such a private and happy affair with people on both sides getting to know one another that you really don't need any unnecessary showbiz to distract from it.

Of course, that doesn't mean you have a zero-expense wedding. It just means you don't lose focus of the purpose of the event. There is no need to blow your entire savings on a single party, or to invite people out of obligation. I hear many couples complain that they never got to enjoy their own wedding or taste the food. I find it ridiculous that you would make what is to be the happiest day of your life into such a chore.

After all is said and done, looking back through your wedding and post-marriage albums and pictures, you should not be left with a single regret. Look forward to making more of such happy memories for years to come!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Bridges over the Siene

The Siene divides Paris into the Left and Right Bank and with many monuments alongside, a cruise down the river is the fastest way to take in the City of Lights. Bateaux-Mouches is one of the best known service providers and offers plenty of cruising options. They have a dinosaur skeleton sculpture near the ticketing office and you can play around trying to take a picture of it from different angles.

Apart from the buildings and Parisian life you see on either bank, the 776 km long river is known for its with 32 bridges within Paris. If you do have the time, it is worth your while to take a walk over some of these and get a closer look at some of the details and sculptures that adorn it. Here's a list of some of them we saw from the ferry (from upstream to downstream).

Text sources: Wikipedia, Paris Pages

The Pont de Sully is actually two separate bridges and was opened in January 1838. It was originally a pair of pedestrian suspension bridges, constructed by the engineer Surville. The current bridge was constructed in 1876 and named in honour of Maximilien de Béthune, Duke of Sully and minister to Henry IV. It was designed by the engineers Paul Vaudrey and Gustave Brosselin. You get splendid views of the Île Saint-Louis and Notre Dame. 

Pont de la Tournelle was built by Paul Landowski and was put in place in 1928, though the bridge dates from 1620, marking what would have been the eastern limit of the fortifications in the middle ages. The statue on the bridge is of St. Genvieve, patron saint of Paris. Genvieve is facing east, which is the direction Attila and the Huns were approaching Paris from when she persuaded the people not to flee. It is also the direction most invaders approach the city. However Landowski, who had fought on the Somme in WWI, would have preferred Genvieve to face Notre Dame, and to represent peace. You can get wonderful views of the back of Notre Dame from this bridge.

The Pont Marie derives its name from the engineer who built it, Christophe Marie. Its construction was spread out over 20 years, from 1614 to 1635. Thus, the bridge is one of the oldest bridges in Paris. In a flood in 1658, 20 houses that were built atop the structure were destroyed and caused the deaths of 60 people. In 1660 a wooden bridge was rebuilt on the same spot, this time with a toll-booth which was designed to raise funds for the complete, stone renovation of the structure. This reconstruction was completed in 1670. In 1740, the remainder of the buildings atop the Pont Marie were removed and in 1769 all building atop the bridge was forbidden. In 1788, houses were barred from construction atop bridges throughout the city. Since the 18th century, the structure has seen little change aside from the flattening of its rise which did not alter the appearance. It is interesting to note each of the five arches of the Pont Marie is unique and that the niches in the abutments have never been filled with statues.

Pont au Double was fist built in 1634 and had a glass gallery, and the patients from the Hotel-Dieu (the oldest hospital in Paris) used it as a nice walk between the Ile de le Cite part of the hospital and the Left Bank part of the hospital. The bridge got its name because non-patients had to pay a double farthing to cross. Although other sources say that the name comes from horsemen having to pay double the toll of pedestrians. The present bridge dates from 1882.

The Petit Pont (Little Bridge) was built in 1853 and is notable for having been destroyed at least 13 times since its original inception. The bridge rebuilt under the reign of Charles VI consisted of three arches and lasted from 1398 until 1408. Designed by the architect Alexandre Michal, and built by Ernest Gariel, the present Petit Pont was begun in 1852 to provide more adequate clearance between the water and the bridge. Thus, the three arches were reduced to one. This new bridge was opened to traffic in 1853

Pont Neuf is considered the oldest bridge in Paris but it actually means new bridge, is actually the oldest bridge in Paris. It dates from 1578. Towards the end of the reign of Louis XVI all the houses on the bridges over the Seine were pulled down. Pont Neuf was the first stone bridge in Paris, the first with pavements, and the first to be built without houses.

Pont Des Arts differs from many other bridges in that it is constructed of metal and is entirely pedestrian. Between 1802 and 1804, under the reign of Napoleon I, a nine-arch metallic bridge for pedestrians was constructed at the location of the present day bridge and was the first metal bridge in Paris. The engineers Louis-Alexandre de Cessart and Jacques Dillon initially conceived of a bridge which would resemble a suspended garden, with trees, banks of flowers, and benches. The present bridge was built between 1981 and 1984 "identically" according to the plans of Louis Arretche, who had decided to reduce the number of arches from nine to seven

The Pont Royal is the third oldest bridge in Paris. Pierre Pidou directed the construction of a wooden toll-bridge in 1632 which would be called Pont Sainte-Anne (in deference to Anne of Austria) or Pont Rouge (due to its colour). Fragile, this bridge of fifteen arches would be repaired for the first time in 1649, completely redone two years later, burnt in 1654, flooded in 1656, completely rebuilt in 1660, propped up in 1673 and finally carried away by a flood in February 1684. It was finally reconstructed between October 25, 1685, and June 13, 1689, this time with stone, receiving complete financing from the king Louis XIV; it was the king who gave it the name Pont Royal. In the 18th century, the bridge was a popular meeting place for various festivities and celebrations.

The Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor was originally made in cast iron and was inaugurated by Napoleon III in 1861. It's named after the June 1859 French victory of the Battle of Solferino. Having weakened over time (particularly due to barges crashing into it), it was demolished and replaced in 1961 with a steel footbridge, demolished in its turn in 1992. Crossing the Seine with a single span and no piers, this metallic bridge is architecturally unique and covered in exotic woods (Tabebuias, a Brazilian tree also used for outdoor flooring at the Bibliothèque nationale de France) which gives it a light and warm appearance. Its solidity is, however, never in doubt - at either end, its foundations are in the form of concrete pillars extending 15m into the ground, and the structure itself is made up of six 150 tonne components built by the Eiffel engineering company

Pont de la Concorde is a neoclassical bridge by the architect Jean-Rodolphe Perronet, commissioned in 1787. Construction continued in the midst of the French Revolution, using the dimension stones taken from the demolished Bastille (taken by force on 14 July 1789) for its masonry. In 1810, Napoléon I placed along the sides of the bridge the statues of eight French generals killed in battle during the campaigns of the First French Empire. On the Bourbon Restoration these were replaced with twelve monumental marble statues, including four of the "grands ministres", four royal generals and four sailors. However, this collection of statues proved too heavy for the bridge, and Louis-Philippe I had them removed and transferred to Versailles. The bridge had to be widened for the increasing traffic in 1932.

Pont Alexandre III is the most ornate bridge in Paris, and is constructed from steel and stone in the Beaux-Arts style with its exuberant Art Nouveau lamps, cherubs, nymphs and winged horses at either end. It was built between 1896 and 1900 and is named after Tsar Alexander III, who had concluded the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1892. His son Nicholas II laid the foundation stone in October 1896. The style of the bridge reflects that of the Grand Palais, to which it leads on the right bank. The construction of the bridge is a marvel of 19th century engineering, consisting of a 6 metres (20 ft) high single span steel arch. The design was subject to strict controls that prevented the bridge from obscuring the view of the Champs-Élysées.
The Pont des Invalides is the lowest bridge traversing the river. In 1821, engineer Claude Navier conceived a technologically revolutionary bridge that crossed the Seine in one single reach without any point of support in between. Due to cracks in some parts of the bridge and gradual settling, the project was abandoned before the bridge even made it into service. In 1829, two engineers, de Verges and Bayard de la Vingtrie, completed the construction of a proper suspension bridge supported by two piers and three porticos, each 20 m in height. In 1854, the bridge was demolished  and Paul-Martin Gallocher de Lagalisserie and Jules Savarin used the existing piers of the former suspension bridge and a newly-added central pier to build an arch bridge in masonry on the same site. The new pier was adorned with sculptures in two allegorical themes: the Land Victory by Victor Vilain upriver; the Maritime Victory by Georges Diébolt downstream, whereas the two old piers were adorned with sculptures of military trophies bearing the imperial coat of arms, both the work of Astyanax-Scévola Bosio.

Passerelle Debilly was commissioned to accommodate visitor traffic to the 1900 World's Fair across the Seine. Its architect, Jean Résal, also designed the Pont Alexandre III and the Viaduc d'Austerlitz. It is named after General Jean Louis Debilly of the French First Empire who was killed in the Battle of Jena in 1806. The footbridge is built on a metallic framework resting on two stone piers at the riverbanks, and decorated with dark green ceramic tiles arranged in a fashion that suggests the impression of waves. The bridge was repainted in 1991 and its cladding resurfaced with hard tropical wood in 1997. In 1989, a German diplomat working for the Secret Service of the Democratic Republic of Germany was found dead on this footbridge, several days after the Fall of the Berlin Wall. As it turned out, the footbridge was used as a secret gathering place for the secret service agents of East Germany during the Cold War.

Pont d'Iéna was ordered in 1807 by Napoléon I and was named after his victory in 1806 at the Battle of Jena. Prussian General Blücher wanted to destroy the bridge before the Battle of Paris in 1814, but was persuaded not to by the Allied forces. The structure was designed with five arches, each with an arc length of 28 m, and four intermediate piers. The tympana along the sides of the bridge had been originally decorated with imperial eagles conceptualized by François-Frédéric Lemot and sculpted by Jean-François Mouret. The eagles were replaced with the royal letter "L" soon after the fall of the First Empire in 1815 but in 1852, when Napoléon III ascended the throne of the Second Empire, new imperial eagles, this time by the chisel of Antoine-Louis Barye, replaced the royal "L". Put in place in 1853, on the two ends of the bridge, are four sculptures sitting on top of four corresponding pylons: a Gallic warrior by Antoine-Augustin Préault and a Roman warrior by Louis-Joseph Daumas by the Right Bank; an Arab warrior by Jean-Jacques Feuchère and a Greek warrior by François Devault by the Left Bank.

Pont de Bir-Hakeim, formerly the pont de Passy, is made of steel and was constructed between 1903 and 1905, replacing an earlier bridge that had been erected in 1878. An arch bridge, it is 237 metres (777 ft) long and 24.7 metres (81 ft) wide. The bridge has two levels: one for motor vehicles and pedestrians, and a viaduct above, through which passes the Metro. Many commemorative plates decorate the viaduct bridge, including several dedicated to soldiers fallen in Belgium during the Second World War. In addition, the central arch of the viaduct is decorated with four monumental stone statues in high-relief: figures of Science and Labor by Jules-Felix Coutan, and Electricity and Commerce by Jean Antoine Injalbert. Originally named the Viaduc de Passy, it was renamed in 1948 to commemorate the Battle of Bir Hakeim, fought by Free French forces against the German Afrika Korps in 1942.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Monumental Paris - Pantheon and Arc de Triomphe

Paris is filled to the brim with monuments of historical and/or artistic importance. It is difficult to walk 2 steps without stumbling upon one. The Pantheon is one such imposing structure we couldn't miss. Even as you stand outside and look at this impressive structure, you can't help but also admire the beauty of the surrounding buildings and roads.

There was some restoration work going on but thankfully, none of the sections inside were closed or covered in scaffolding. 

Before you even enter, you have to stop and take in the grand entrance with it's intimidating columns and sculpted designs. The relief on the pediment is inscribed with the motto: Aux grands hommes, la patrie reconnaissante (To great men, the grateful homeland) which is in reference to the great French personalities interred in the crypts below.

The first look surprises you because you wouldn't have though it would be so spacious and grand going by the façade. The triple dome holds you in awe till you manage to take your eyes from it and explore the other treasures here.

There are many sculptures, each with its historical significance, such as the tribute to the orators and statesmen for their contribution to the Battle of Valmy that was one of the most significant battles during the Revolution in 1792. It was sculpted by Laurent Marqueste in 1903 and the group of speakers and publicists of the Restoration is composed of Benjamin Constant, Count Pierre Serre, Casimir Perrier, Armand Carrel, General Maximilien Foy, Jacques-Antoine Manuel, the Vicomte François-René de Chateaubriand.

The centrepiece is “The National Convention” by Francois Leon-Sicard done in 1920. It features soldiers on the right of Marianne, the symbol of France, and members of the National Convention on the left. Above in the half dome (done 1874 to 1885) by Ernest Hebert is Christ teaching the angel of France with St Genevieve and Joan d'Arc to the left and the City of Paris kneeling to the right.

There are also many impressive murals on the walls like the one by Jules Eugène Lenepveu depicting the significant moments in the life of Joan of Arc. It is actually a set of four 15 feet high panels, and four other smaller paintings.

As mentioned above, the Pantheon also houses a crypt with the who's who of France's elite. Voltaire (pictured above), Rousseau, Louis Braille, and Victor Hugo to name a are in esteemed company

Of course, no visit to Paris is complete without visiting the iconic Arc de Triomphe. It is in the centre of a beautifully laid out crossroads with roads leading to it from all directions like a 12-pronged star. This makes it is a bit of a challenge to cross the road here with the absence of a traffic signal. We didn't go up to the viewing platform or the museum, but sat near one of the pillars and took in this magnificent city on a delightful summer's evening.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Quaint Paris

Every two steps we took in Paris there was something to discover.We had to focus and keep moving to see just a few spots on our list otherwise we wouldn't have gone too far. That was one of the many reasons we have to go back there to take in every nook and cranny, new or historical, that make this city interesting and full of surprises.

These are just a few of the wonderful stops we took.

The Fontaine Saint-Michel, constructed in 1860 by Gabriel Davioud is a delightful fountain and a nice meeting/resting place. The central figure is the Archangel Michael wrestling with the devil.

Doors are delightful. It is interesting to see different kinds all around the world, with often unique door knobs and handles. These examples were just a handful we managed to photograph, but there were so many more picturesque ones that we couldn't walk over each time to take a picture of it. Kept our focus!

 There are several signposts for the Metro stations that are worthy of a second look. The Metro's original Art Nouveau entrances are iconic, designed by Hector Guimard in 1899. Out of 180 original signposts designed, only about 80 or so remain. The rest were replaced in a wave of modernization without realizing the artistic importance of these objects that add to the charm of Paris.

Art Nouveau is an international style of decoration and architecture in the 1880s and 1890s that drew inspiration from nature and natural forms. The gate below on the left has curvilinear lines and was inspired by vines and flowers. Symmetrical, floral lights frame the Metro sign, both lighting the entrance and advertising the Métropolitan.

The Métro signposts were a 1920s innovation of the Nord-Sud company. The Val d'Osne design consists of a globe-shaped lamp atop a "MÉTRO" sign surrounded by an ornate cast-iron frieze. The simpler Dervaux lampposts as on the right below, (named after their architect) became common in the 1930s, following the contemporary trend away from decorative embellishment.

Avanti la Musica is a quaint little shop selling wind-up musical boxes at the street opposite the Notre Dame on Quai de la Tournelle. The owner is a delightful lady who'll have a little chat with you in English and show you some nice pieces, all of which are made by her husband himself.

Parisians love their pets! There were many roaming the streets with their owners. Also, they realise that begging with a dog at your side gets more money in the hat. This little one was tied to a bench with a note saying his mom was inside the building and will be out soon.

The Parapluies Simon had gorgeous designer (read expensive) umbrellas on display but we didn't venture in. The sign board held more fascination for us.

 Night time was even more mesmerising. The Luxor Obelix at Place de la Concorde was a gift from Egypt and originally at the entrance to Amon Temple in Luxor, Egypt. It is more than 3,300 years old and is decorated with hieroglyphics portraying the reigns of the Pharaohs Ramses II and Ramses III. The square where it's housed was infamous as many revolutionaries were beheaded here. If you look closely, it also has an assembly manual etched on the side since it had to be dismantled while shipping.

The Grand Palais looks stunning at night with the French flag fluttering at the top of the dome.

Finally, the Fontaines de la Concorde are 2 stunning fountains placed next to each other in front of the Tuileries gardens. They were designed by Jacques Ignace Hittorff in 1840. The Maritime Fountain commemorates the maritime commerce and industry of France, and the Fountain of the Rivers (below) commemorates navigation and commerce on the rivers of France. The central figures were created in cast-iron, whereas the 12 Triton and mermaid statues (6 in each fountain) were cast in bronze. The fountain below is adorned with allegorical figures representing the Rhone and the Rhine, the arts of the harvesting of flowers and fruits, harvesting and grape growing; and the geniuses of river navigation.

So much to see, so little time!