Tuesday, 08 October 2013
Magical mystery tour with Diane & visiting other friends in Paris last month. Text & most photos by Glenn Belverio
Last month I was holidaying in Europe and I spent a glorious week in the City of Light visiting friends. The highlight of my trip was a magical mystery tour with Diane...and then there were all the stolen moments I had with old and new friends, not to mention one or two rencontres érotiques.
On one particulary muggy yet brilliant afternoon, I walked from the Hôtel de NELL where I was staying to Diane's chic address in the 7th arrond. I passed through the Place de la Concorde, as one does during such a walk, and it was as magical as I remembered it from four years ago.
Diane at ASVOFF HQ with her Casablancas and NASA space view looming behind her.....she is looking even younger than when I last saw her: Barcelona, Summer 2010. We caught up on all the news and laughs as I fanned myself with my Amanda Lear Chinese dance fan.
Me & Diane's reflection out on her curved street....I brought some Keith Haring old-skool New York City realness back to Diane...
We went to an absolutely divoon Japanese restaurant near Diane's apartment...the exquisite courses just kept coming and coming...I think it was an 11-course meal...
One of the courses involved succulent clams in broth and they were heaven.
A couple of days later I met Diane at the wildly popular TUCK SHOP which is co-owned by the divine Puurple Rain....everything is vegetarian, homemade and out of this world....Diane and I both had the stellar zucchini soup...it transported me....and this was the start of our magical mystery tour around Paris....my drug of choice: vegetarian fare (and Champagne).
Instagram madness at the TUCK SHOP with Diane! Edgar Allen Poe held sway. Funnily, there is an "Edgar Poe" school in Paris...one of Rebecca Voight's kids attends it....she took me to it....and it's right next to a crusty gay bar! Oh, Paris!
Rain! She works hard for the money at the TUCK SHOP! Bringing vegetarian delights to the Croque Madame-stifled masses....
This is what I'm talkin' about....#TuckShop #YUM
After the Tuck Shop, Diane and I made are way over to to the legendary Cafe de Flore to rendezvous with the legendary Lemon (she is seen her perched on the coupe de OJ) and the one-and-only Mayor of the Marais, Akiko Hamaoka. Akiko told me all about her fabulous new job and Lemon went on and on about the new apartment's Olympic-pool-sized bathtub.
After I fortified myself with some Moët, Diane, Akiko and I went on a looooong walk, our magical mystery tour up Paris, from Cafe de Flore through Les Halles (where tourist heads were spinning around a la Linda Blair when they spotted Diane) and finally to the Le Marais. Diane said she never walks that far and never walks through Les Halles so it was a rare treat. At one point we passed by the magnificent Tour Saint Jacques, above.
Later, we stopped by L'Hotel to pay homage to the great Oscar Wilde. There are varying reports on what his last words were when he died here (it was a dump in 1899, now it's this ridiculously chi-chi boutique hotel): "These curtains and I have been fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go."
"Either this wallpaper goes or I go."
And so on.
Not sure what this mosaic was but it fit right in with our magical mystery tour.
Not on the magical mystery tour route, but here's a graffiti-ed squat in Montmartre near where I was staying after I left the Hôtel de NELL. Apparently Bender from Futurama enjoys the same kind of cult success that Jerry Lewis once had in France.
Medusa and the angels...
One on sunny day I had brunch in Le Marais with fashion designer Teddy Parra (above) and his partner, the stage actor Jean-Luc Bertin. Teddy took me on a tour of his charming shop and downstairs atelier.
I need this look for my next lunch date with Jax (Joan Collins) in St. Tropez. Teddy also creates wonderful made-to-measure men's suits.
Downstairs in Teddy's atelier, I was mad for these crane scissors.
While I was with the boys we passed by this pin-up plastered Vespa. Sexy!
On one particularly balmy afternoon, my friend Frédéric invited me over for a cocktail on the large terrace of his glamorous penthouse in the 15th arrond. I died when I saw the view. I offered to make us some of my world-famous Belgronis™ but since Frédéric had limited spirit options, we went into War-time rationing mode. We made do with some gin and red vermouth. Since he didn't have a proper cocktail shaker, I had to mix the cocktails in a wine decanter with a swan-like neck. Not easy to get the ice cubes in there! But we ended on a high note by drinking my Belgronis™ from Fréd's Dior crystal tumblers.
Frédéric avec Belgroni™ et Tour de Eiffel.
Moi soaking up the booze and the sun. Holiday! Celebrate! In ev-ery nation....
For the sunset view, one must tolerate these very un-Parisian towers that look like they belong in one of China's ghost cities...
And then when you turn your head, you get the most iconic view in the world. I was excited to finally witness the 9pm 5-minute glitter and sparkle light show (cut down from 10 minutes in the interests of energy conservation...)
One of the other magical things about this trip to Paris turned out to be my ultimate public advertising fantasy: Huge images of the gorgeous and talented Amanda Lear on the street, in the Metro, on buses,...everywhere! This was reason enough for me to leave the world of tacky, ironic and idiotic hipster public ads in NYC and move to Paris.....The ads are for her new show which Gaultier did the costumes for. Unfortunately I was no longer in Paris when the show opened.
The many passages in Paris are a delight and I absolutely adore Passage Jouffroy in the 9th. This cane shop is of special interest: handmade canes with exquisitely designed heads in sterling silver and bone. When I'm old enough to pull off the cane look (maybe on my 40th birthday in 5 years?) I definitely plan on buying one here.
On my last day in Paris, I had lunch with the delightful Angélique Bosio, director of the terrific documentary on Bruce LaBruce, The Advocate for Fagdom. I (and my alter ego) appear in the film and Angélique interviewed me for it in 2009 when I was staying in an apartment in Pigalle.
We lunched at Richer à Paris and I started with the watercress soup which was not only a mesmerizing shade of green but delicious. (I followed this with, if my memory serves me, some rare venison.)
Another view from Frédéric's terrace...I love the faerie lights.
Thanks for reading.
Monday, 07 October 2013
Hôtel de NELL & La Régalade Conservatoire in Paris. Photos & text by Glenn Belverio
September is my favorite month to travel in Europe and this year I decided to add Paris to my itinerary so I could visit Diane and other friends. (I hadn't been to Paris in 4 years!) My trip started out on a sweet note when I was invited to stay two nights at the superb Hôtel de NELL, located in the heart of the 9th arrondissement, the center of Paris. And while this is a bustling area, the 5-star luxury hotel is tucked away on the peaceful corner of rue Sainte-Cécile and rue du Conservatoire. A relative newcomer on the Paris hotel scene, the NELL opened back in February.
The hotel, left, and the Saint-Eugène-Sainte-Cécile Church, which was built between 1854 and 1856. Of note: On January 10, 1857, writer Jules Verne married Honorine Viane here. And since 1989, the mass is celebrated in the church both under the Paul VI ritual (that is, in French) and under the St Pius V ritual (in Latin, priest turning his back to the faithful).
I grew up reading Jules Verne novels and would have loved to see the inside of the church--but it was closed for the two days I was staying at the NELL.
Hôtel de NELL was designed by Jean-Michel Wilmotte whose objective is not limited to "creating for the sake of creation, but reconciling man with his environment and culture." Wilmotte likes clean lines and warm materials. I really loved the spare look of the room. Very serene and chic without feeling clinical or boring.
This is the bed in the Prestige room I stayed in. Sandy tones are dominant in the room and I found the blonde wood and textured beige floor to be very zen and relaxing.
Wilmotte is a big fan of the "recessed joint principle", which is a vacuum soldering of two walls. The recessed joint connects two masses while reducing their volume and highlighting an architectural approach.
"Not a ceiling, not a desk, not a single line is without a recessed joint. Aesthetic rigor means not a single air conditioning or CMV grate will intrude upon those lines, and the recessed joints themselves become vents in all the rooms and bathrooms."
Exclusive Artemide bedside lamps rise out of the panelled headboard. All the lights are 100% LED. I really like the industrial accent the lamps added to the otherwise clean, monochromatic design.
My room's pièce de résistance: a Japanese bathtub carved out of a single block of raw marble, bathed in natural light. The tray, seat and footstool are made from the lightest Oregon myrtlewood. I thought the seat was a bit strange but then again, I've never taken a bath in Japan! The bath products were superb, especially the body scrub.
I loved the bath's faucet.
There was a fabulous rain shower with stone-colored walls...
...a very design-y, anti-fog mirror...
...and two raw, white-marble basins.
I really liked the office chair with an articulated back.
One of the views from my room: the former Comptoir National d'Escompte with its clasically Parisian dome.
My other view was of this quiet pedestrian street.
I really loved the weathered 13th-century mockup facade of Saint-Eugène-Sainte-Cécile Church which faces the front of the hotel.
I loved the bar lobby because they stocked the kinds of not-so-trendy spirits one might find chez Belverio: Byrrh, Dolin vermouth, Lillet, Chartreuse.
Behind the bar lobby is a lounge with a glass ceiling and Wimotte-designed sofas.
Family portrait time: My friend, the journalist Rebecca Voight (center), joined me in the lobby for a cocktail with her kids, Joe and Jan.
If you know me, you know all about my love for Negronis (mine are known as Belgronis™) so of course I had to try the NELL's drier variation on this classic aperitif cocktail (although the bartender didn't seem to appreciate me comparing it to a Negroni.) The Kina is made with Byrrh, Citadelle gin and Dolin Blanc and it was wonderful.
Rebecca opted for the Nell's Vesper: Lillet blanc, Citadelle gin, Cîroc and zeste de citron. (She loved it.)
Above: Dinner began with some rustic chicken terrine (one of the chef's signatures), bread and cornichons
After cockails, Rebecca's kids left to go out and paint the town rouge, and Rebecca and I relocated to the NELL's formidable restaurant, La Régalade Conservatoire. Unlike a lot of hotel restaurants where breakfast is routine but dinner is ignored in favor of the outside world, La Régalade Conservatoire has become one of Paris's top gastronome destinations. We were seated at 8 and by 8:30 there wasn't an empty seat in the joint. Reservations typically need to be made one week in advance.
The chef, Bruno Doucet, took the reins of the original La Régalade from Yves Camdeborde in 2004 after learning the ropes in the kitchens of Pierre Gagnaire, Charles Barrier and Jean-Pierre Vigato. At La Régalade Conservatoire, Doucet's philosophy is "in-season ingredients that I enjoy waiting for and then rediscovering, and precise, learned, repeated techniques that transform them." In short, haute cuisine at bistro prices.
A view of the restaurant a few hours before dinner time--as spare and chic as the hotel's rooms.
As a starter, I had the royal foie gras and chicken wings in a creamy mushroom broth. Orgasmic!
Rebecca had the creamy cuttlefish risotto with chili-and-garlic-roasted prawns and "La vache qui rit" cheese emulsion. It was an explosion of flavors and textures and I couldn't stop digging my spoon in "just to try it."
As my main, I chose the scorpion fish fillet cooked in a bouillabaisse with snow peas and shaved fennel. The flesh of the fish was rich and full of favor--not like a mild white fish at all. The sauce was perfection.
Rebecca with her main: Catfish "stung" with chorizo, cooked beans from Paimpol Xeres and tomatoes. At this point we were past the champagne and well into our red wine--and gossipping up a storm, I'm sure--so I think I forgot to try this one. I'm sorry I didn't because I adore the idea of fish stung with chorizo!
The dessert....the dessert! It was an absolute triumph! Soufflé Grand-Marnier served piping hot and boozy. Later that night in my comfy bed at the hotel, I had a dream about this soufflé--and when I woke up, my pillow was gone!
Rebecca had Kouign Aman served warm, caramelized apples with cardamom and homemade sorbet. A perfect early-fall dessert.
After dinner we wandered around looking for a nice bar to have a nightcap--we didn't find anything that great (Paris sure is sleepy compared to NYC! Not that there's anything wrong with that) but there are plenty of charming locales near the hotel.
This was some kind of financial institution at the end of the street from the hotel. Grand!
The NELL is near a lot of iconic venues, such as the Folies Bergère. I think the scaffolding is up because the gilded tuchas of the theater's famous Deoc dancer was being polished!
Also nearby is the eternal Parisian favorite, the confectioner A la Mere de Famille (founded in 1761). The NELL serves complimentary bonbons from here at their front desk and of course I stopped by to pick up some (expensive) gifts for my co-workers at Tiffany's in New York!
Another view of the NELL's bar lobby.
Thanks for reading!
Wednesday, 07 August 2013
A tour of Medieval Rome with Roam Around Rome. Photos & text by Glenn Belverio
Above: Sisters are doing it for themselves at the Basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati
Dear Shaded Viewers,
Last month I was in the gorgeous city of Rome covering Alta Roma for Diane, and I also made some time for a tour of some Medieval Catholic churches in the center of the city. I was treated to this tour by Roam Around Rome, a new boutique tour company comprised of Paolo Mechini and Antonio. Paolo and Antonio specialize in curated tours for discerning visitors to Rome.
So, forget about those tour guides with the ratty flag on a stick who have 50 people shuffling behind them. Roam Around Rome caters to discerning individuals and couples, and the occassional small group who are traveling together. They tend to attract a more well-heeled variety of traveler.
How it works is you tell Paolo and Antonio what sort of things you are interested in (I chose Medievel religious art and churches). They specialize in knowledge of sites that are off the tourist beat, so you may find yourself in a place completely empty of visitors. One of their recent clients requested an "iconic cinematic tour of Rome" and Paulo and Antonio took them to the famous sites where many Fellini films were shot. Another client only wanted to visit places that were off the beaten path.
Roam Around Rome advises that the tours be done on foot--because Rome is such a glorious city for walking--but they can also arrange transportation. You can also tour sites outside of the city, like the Villa Lante. Before I walk you through my photos, here is the website where you can find more information about Roam Around Rome and how to contact them:
Also: Don't let the fact that it's August discourage you from visiting Rome. The city doesn't shut down in August as much as it used to. The downer is that many Romans can't afford to go on holiday so only 1 in 3 of them will leave in August. The upside of that is many restaurants and museums will be open. Yes, it's hot in August but you will get used to it--and the beach is not far away. Plus: Fall is just around the corner. A marvelous time to visit Rome.
And here they are! Paolo and Antonio. Paolo, originally from Turin, has been in Rome for 15 years. He's a construction engineer, a romantic and an enthusiast. Antonio is an architect, born in Rome, and studied Art and Archeology. I took this photo at our first stop, the Basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati, or the Four Holy Crowned Martyrs.
The Basilica of the Four Holy Crowned Martyrs was founded in 4 A.D. and is devoted to four anonymous saints and martyrs. As the story goes, according to the Passion of St. Sebastian, the four saints were soldiers who refused to sacrifice to Aesculpius, and therefore were killed by order of Emperor Diocletian (284-305).
The Basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati is a very peaceful place, a wonderful respite from the hectic streets of modern Rome. Step back into the past and avoid the tourists here...
The marble floor, "paviemento cosmatesco" of the basilica is "Cosmati style", dating back to the 12th or 13th century. It's typical of early Christian churches.
The red marble is called porphyry and in Roman times it was for emperors only.
The beautiful, and hidden, Romanesque cloister. This is where we talked to a feisty old Augustinian nun who launched into a passionate and hilarious rant about some restoration work that has been going on at the Basilica for quite a long time. She has been waiting and waiting for the Art Superintendent to open a "new" frescoed room from the 12th century. "I was born from a family of engineers and builders," she told us in Italian as she gesticulated wildly. "And I know how long it takes to restore a building! Never this long! This is the Basilica of the Four Holy Crowned Martyrs and I am the fifth martyr after enduring all this construction!"
One of highlights of the Basilica of the Four Holy Crowned Martyrs is the Chapel of St. Sylvester which features frescoes from 1247 A.D. and a Benedettine cloister from the 13th century. This chapel showcases the amazing narrative power of Medieval frescoes, even if many of the artists' names have been forgotten.
I took this photo of a fresco of the Emperor Constantinus because my father's name is Constantino.
The frescoes tell the story about how Constantinus comes down with a bad case of leprosy and is healed by Saint Sylvester. Sylvester made him feel mighty real!
Later, we visited the Basilica di Santo Stefano Rotondo (St Stephen in the Round) where a wedding was in progress. (In fact, almost everywhere we went there was a wedding going on! July brides melting in the Roman sun...) This Basilica was consecrated by Pope Simplicius between 468 and 483 A.D. This is the oldest circular-plan church after the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
And now we get to the interesting part--interesting, that is, if you're a fan of splatter horror films! There are 34 frescoes from the 16th century in Basilica di Santo Rotondo that depict scenes of Christian martyrdom. Well, it all starts out innocently enough with this low-key fresco of Christians waiting to be devoured by lions. The lions looks very hungry (and "evil") but the ripping of flesh is tastefully left to your imagination.....
But then things get more vivid. The parade of Catholic torture porn starts now.
There was, of course, classic decapitation...
..being boiled alive...
..a group of martyrs boiled in an iron tub....soup's on!
Oh yeah, it gets worse. Check out the pile of bodies in the background.
Pressed to death..like a panini...
Look at all those severed hands! Note the peaceful contenance on the hand-less, blood-gushing martyr.
Another classic: having one's tongue cut out so they can't pass on the words of Christ. That codpiece the torturer is wearing? It reminds me of some of the homemade stage outfits worn by the male dancers at Stella's, a long-gone hustler bar that was located in NYC's Times Square.
Just when I felt like I was going to faint after taking in all that ultra-violence, I had a moment of solace with this lovely starry-night fresco. Aaaah!
I really liked the juxtaposition created by the modern design elements in the medieval Basilica di Santo Stefano Rotondo.
Next stop was the Basilica of Santa Maria in Domnica founded in the 5th century A.D. with 9th century mosaics commissioned by Pope Paschal I.
Here's the close-up. God is in the details, dolls.
A Rolls Royce was waiting to drive us to Heaven.
No dear, this is not Liberace's bathroom. Actually, I can't remember which church this is, but dig all those crazy chandeliers.
Hey, hey, we're the monk-ees! People think we're monkeying around! But we're too busy praying, to put anybody down...
J'Adored this...it's a large mythological painting portraying a marine scene in the nymphaeum of the Roman house below the Celio Hill, which is regarded as a masterpiece of late antique painting. The subject matter has been widely debated but would appear to represent either Venus or Proserpina, accompanied by a train of feasting erotes, fishing from wooden boats. Divine!
Classic Roman vista.
I love buildings painted in burnt sienna.
Before we made our last basilica stop of the day, we stopped for a toothsome lunch of pasta, incredible fritto misto (I live for fried zucchini blossoms with anchovy paste), calamari and baked eggplant.
Our last visit was the show-stopping Basilica di San Clemente, founded in the 4th century, which is comprised of 3 levels from different eras. The story of Saint Clemente involves him being thrown into the sea with an anchor tied around his neck (there are anchor motifs everywhere in the church). When he sank to the bottom of the sea, the angels built an underwater mansion for him to live in. His body was (allegedly) later recovered by fellow Christians.
The Apse mosaic, circa 1200 A.D. showing a common form of Byzantine arabesque motif of scrolled acanthus tendrils.
Last but not least, the mithraeum, dating back to the 3rd century A.D., deep below the Basilica. A temple to the pagan Persian god Mithras, who is depicted in the bas relief of this altar, in his classic bull-slaughtering position. Popular before the Christians drove it out around the 5th century, the cult of Mithras was an all-male cult comprised of working-class and military men.
You can see a hole in the ceiling above the altar to Mithras. After a bull was slaughtered and sacrificed, the animal's blood would pour down like a waterfall from the ceiling. As an initiation rite, the strapping, naked young military men would bathe and frolic and wrestle around in the deluge of blood. Now that sounds like a great party!
Thanks for taking this journey with me. And don't forget to book your tour with Roam Around Rome during your next trip to the Eternal City.
Wednesday, 10 July 2013
A visit to Park Güell in between the shows - by Silvia Bombardini
Sunday, 07 July 2013
In Rome for Alta Roma & to visit friends. By Glenn Belverio
Dear Shaded Viewers,
I'm having a Roman holiday for an extended 4th of July weekend. Relaxing on my terrace at Leon's Place Hotel and later going to the Jean Paul Gaultier couture show at Santo Spirito and the Gaultier dinner at the splendid Galleria Borghese.
Last night was amusingly Robert Altman-esque during a very long cocktail party at the Palazzo Firenze aka the Società Dante Alighieri in which a cast of zany, prosecco-fueled characters engaged in tipsy, overlapping dialogue with long-lost friends and strangers as we wandered around and around a rambling garden, losing each other, finding each other and trying to make sense of each other in the Roman heat.
Rebecca Voight and I caught up on 5 years of gossip and the long, languid party eventually drew to a close when a large, well-suited man pushed me aside and stood at the end of the bar that was covered with empty champagne flutes. Was he going to throw us all out of the garden? The bum's rush in melody? Then he announced in a booming voice that he had lost a book--a book! -- and everyone in the crowd became VERY concerned and we all looked around in vain for his book.
Now you know that sort of thing hasn't happened in New York since the '90s! No one carries books around in NYC anymore. The crisis would be if someone lost their smart phone.
Susan Sabet of Pashion magazine in Cairo and me in the front row at the Ethical African fashion show this morning.
Even though this fashion week is like a Robert Altman film, Rebecca Voight turned out her best Diane Keaton in ""Annie Hall" swagger...
Rebecca and Nunzia Garoffolo at breakfast this morning. They are holding up the Andy Warhol notepads from MoMA that I gifted to Rebecca. One of them says, "Everybody should like everybody."
Me sunbathing on my terrace. I'm exhausted from my private tour of Medieval churches with Roam Around Rome and last's nights cocktail, pizza and gelato hijinx.
Ciao for now,
Monday, 22 April 2013
My Nile cruise in Aswan, Egypt. Photos by Glenn Belverio
This is my last post from my trip to Egypt in February. During my stay at the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, Egypt, I went on 3-hour idyllic felucca cruise on a picture-perfect African day.
The view from the terrace of my suite: the Nile, Elephantine Island and the Nubian Desert.
Shoving off from the jetty of the Old Cataract.
I had to crawl through "The Love Boat" to get to the boat I was taking...
My felucca captain.
The Mausoleum of Aga Khan
I made a pitstop at the Botanical Gardens Island.
Returning to the hotel....
Monday, 15 April 2013
My visit to the Fatimid Cemetery in Aswan, Egypt. Photos & text by Glenn Belverio
While I was in Aswan, in Upper Egypt, in February, I visited the old Fatimid Cemetery, which is walking distance from where I stayed, the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan Hotel. Some of the mud-brick domed tombs in the cemetery date back as far as the 9th Century. The caretaker of the cemetery showed me around the vast area.
The tomb of an important imam is decorated with hsbd-irty, or artificial lapis lazuli, which is considered humanity's first synthetic pigment. It was developed in ancient Egypt during the Fourth Dynasty, c.2575-2467 B.C., when it used to decorate the tombs of the Pharaohs.
When the caretaker showed me this blue-dusted tomb, I was stuck with the shock of déjà vu. I then realized I had visited this site in a dream I had a few years ago.
The horn-like details on some of the tombs are unique to southern Egypt.
A tomb of a local saint. They weren't here today, but one can sometimes seem Aswani circumambulating such tombs, praying for the saint's intercession.
Thanks for reading.
Tuesday, 02 April 2013
Exploring Côte d'Azur
Dear Shaded Viewers,
I have spent my Easter Holiday in south of France exploring a few cities I hadn't been to before.
We started off in Cannes which has a special place in my heart for the nutella macarons we get from Jean Luc Pele in Rue D'Antibes. After a day there, we moved to Saint Paul de Vence where Marc Chagall moved in the 60s. The city itself is magical with its narrow streets, art galleries and breathtaking panaroma overlooking the green valleys.
Right at its entrance, there's the famous Colombe d'Or which depicts original works of Miró, Picasso, Dufy, Signac, and Calder. Unfortunately by the time we got there, the kitchen was already closed so we just took a quick tour of the place then left to visit Fondation Maeght.
Fondation Maeght is relatively hidden in the mountain with a beautiful forest surrounding it. Founded in 1964, the fondation displays works of many famous artists such as Bonnard, George Braque, Calder, Marc Chagall, Miro, Giacometti and Leger. There was also an interesting exhibition of the artist Gloria Friedmann of whose works I photographed for you.
Impressive, don't you think? Well, here is my favourite picture of the city:
And this is what I added to my wish list for next Christmas, a real Chagall in an art gallery in Saint Paul de Vence:
And this is what I saved for the last: the chapel dedicated to Saint Bernard near Fondation Maeght. Can you believe that the wooden crucifix was a gift by Christobal Balenciaga himself?
Ok, so the next day, we decided to go to St. Tropez as it was off season and we thought we could enjoy a nice lunch and some time at the beach. Thanks God the weather was fine so I could finally walk barefoot on the sand.
Thanks for reading,
Sunday, 24 March 2013
My trip to Coptic Cairo. Photos by Glenn Belverio
Last month I took a stroll through the oldest area of Cairo, Coptic Cairo, a maze of ancient churches and cathedrals that date back to the 7th century. The Copts are the native Christians of Egypt (Christianity was the majority religion in Egypt from the 4th through 6th centuries AD until the Muslim conquest of Egypt. The current worldwide Coptic Christian population is between 10 and 20 million. I met a few Coptic Christians here and in other parts of Cairo (including a very cute taxi driver at the airport) and they like to show you the cultish crucifix tattoo they have on their wrists.
Greek Orthodox Monastery and Church of Saint George. A Palestinian conscript in the Roman Army, St. George was executed in 303 AD for resisting Emperor Diocletian's decree forbidding the practive of Christianity.
St. George and the Dragon
I wandered through some more ancient churches in the area....
Poster rasising awareness about AIDS and drug addiction. The happy pill is apparently a cheap form of speed that is abused with popular abandon in Cairo. Not sure if it was a good idea to make into a smiling cartoon character...
The Hanging Church. The entrance dates back to the 7th or 9th century (the date can't be agreed on) but the above facade is from the 19th century. It's called the Hanging Church because it is suspended over the Water Gate of Roman Babylon.
Two views inside the Hanging Church.
Monday, 18 March 2013
My stay at the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, Egypt. Photos & text by Glenn Belverio
Because wintering in St. Bart's or South Beach is so two decades ago, I now winter in the south of Egypt, in Aswan, ensconsed in the Nubian Desert and on the most beautiful part of the Nile. Here, the culture of the Nubian tribes and the proximity to Sudan gives this part of Egypt a more African feel than the rest of the country. The days are hot and dry, the air is clean, the breezes from the Nile are refreshing and the desert nights are bracing. It is a divine place to pass the days away when much of the West is submerged in frozen February gloom.
The grandest, and most famous, place to stay in Aswan is the Victorian palace known as the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Hotel--"old cataract" referring to the first waterfall one encounters as one travels up the Nile. The Sofitel brand is known for buying and revamping colonialist legacy hotels--like the Metropole in Hanoi, where I stayed in 2004. The Old Cataract was founded by Thomas Cook and built in 1899. Through the years, famous heads of state, dignitaries, authors, actors and jet-setters have stayed here, from King Farouk of Egypt to Francois Mitterrand, from Winston Churchill to Agatha Christie (both of whom have suites dedicated to them at the hotel--more on that later.)
The hotel had a facelift a few years ago with a chic makeover by French interior designer Sybille de Margerie (Moorish arches, Persian carpets, ruby red chandeliers, modern Italian lamps) which resulted in the original building being renamed the Palace Wing. I stayed in the new building, the Nile Wing, which has a more contemporary feel (and a spa) and overlooks the Victorian-era building. The Old Cataract is probably best known for being the place where Agatha Christie wrote part of "Death on the Nile" (the hotel is a backdrop in part of the story) and also where scenes for the film version (featuring Bette Davis and Maggie Smith in an S&M relationship, and the divoon Jane Birkin) were shot.
One of my glorious views from my suite's long terrace. Here you can see the original hotel, now the Palace Wing.
I took this photo as soon as I arrived. In lieu of a check-in desk, guests are escorted upon arrival to a tufted sofa in the plush salon near the bar and offered a choice of cold drink. I can't remember what I had, but it was something like Nectar of Isis.
And voila, my Master Bedroom in the Prestige Suite where I stayed for 4 ultra-relaxing nights. I was mad for the pale-green and white color palette.
While bathing in my freestanding tub by Villeroy & Boch (I love the colored tiles), I had a lovely view of Elephantine Island through the terrace doors of the bedroom. It was espeically enchanting at night when the Nubian tribes were playing their drums and when the Muslim Call to Prayer (which sounds more supernatural here than in Cairo) started up. I took to referring to the result as the "Nubian Desert remix of the Call to Prayer." Spellbinding.
There was a living room and off to the right by the lamp, a study and library.
This is what I woke up to every morning....the Nile, Elephantine Island (with the Ruins of Abu) and the golden Nubian Desert.
I zoomed into the Ruins of Abu from my terrace (and also strolled around them one morning before visiting the Nubian Villages). It is said that Khnum, the ram-headed god of the cataracts, lives here. I should have liked to meet him.
View from the famous terrace of the Palace Wing.
All hail the heroic Gin Fizz! I thought this was the proper British colonialist cocktail to sip while watching the hotel's famed view of the sunset
Beyond Elphantine Island is the Mausoleum of Aga Khan.
The sunset viewed from the terrace.
I felt quite regal walking through the gilded entrance of the Nile Wing to my suite.
The pool in the Nile Wing's spa. I never got around to using the spa, alas. I couldn't tear myself away from all the spectacular views around the hotel. And then of course there were expeditions, like my 8-hour trip to the Temples of Abu Simbel.
View of the hotel at night, with Coptic church in the background.
I dined at 1900, the hotel's exquisite French restaurant that was built in 1900 to commemorate the premier of the Old Aswan Dam.
Glazed duck breast with hibiscus and marmalade sauce served with a tarragon brioche and garnished with a stalk of lemongrass. Superb. It paired nicely with a glass of red Jardin du Nil, my favorite wine du moment.
View inside 1900
On another night, I dined in The Oriental, the hotel's Egyptian restaurant, and had pigeons stuffed with two kinds of rice, a traditional Egyptian dish.
The hotel's general manager took me on a tour of the property, which included a requisite stop in the Winston Churchill Suite.
The foyer of the Churchill Suite.
A view of the suite's giant living room.
Churchill master bedroom
The private terrace of the Churchill suite is very spacious.
Onward to the Agatha Christie Suite....
I much preferred Ms. Christie's living room....the throw pillows are dreamy.
The French version, naturallement.
I adored the view from Agatha Christie's desk. But of course those divine Italian lamps were not there during her stay back in the 1930s.
Another view of the Agatha Christie Suite's living room. I was positively over the moon for the gold-leafed cabinet in the background, which served as Ms. Christie's personal mini bar....
As the Suite has a kitchen, if you're in the mood to whip up some French delicacies, Ms. Christie thoughtfullfy left behind her cookbook.
The price per night in the Churchill or Christie Suite? $8,000 USD. A mere bag of shells, doll...
Feluccas on the Nile. I took a felucca ride one idyllic afternoon.....Aswan really transports one back to the past....
And if you're still nervous about visiting Egypt....you couldn't be in a safer place than Aswan. If you're worried about the political tumult in cities like Cairo (which is also safe) and Port Said, fear not--there is nothing going on in the southern part of Egypt. It's the most peaceful place on Earth.
Sunset at the Aswan airport.
Thanks for reading.