Reminiscing on our trip to Porto

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When I found out I was going to move to Santiago, I suggested my sister and I went on a last-minute trip somewhere in Europe. We don’t get to see each other that often, and it was certainly not going to improve with me moving to South America. We decided to go to Portugal as a tribute to a cherished memory of a family trip there several years before. After several months apart, on a sunny morning in June, we met up at the Bolhao metro station in Porto.

Instead of staying in a hostel or renting a flat, we got a room at Maus Hábitos (“Bad Habits”), a cultural centre/music venue/veggie café located on the third floor of an art deco car park. This alone made it special, but I truly fell for its tasteful decoration and its leafy terraces. The few nights we spent there were busy, as there was a gig every night. When we weren’t out for drinks around Porto, we just enjoyed a beers and music there. I should also add that the pizzas served at the café were ah-mazing.

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Porto is undeniably one of the most charming cities I have been to – perhaps I am falling into the trap of a romantic vision of urban decay. Look up and you’ll see crumbling facades covered with azulejos, and abandoned buildings with outgrown vegetation. Most walls were covered by graffiti, from simple sentences scribbled by passers-by to full murals by internationally renowned graffiti artists. It is smaller than Lisbon, and quieter, but there is plenty to do, see, and of course, eat. We were there for five days, which gave us time to do the essentials, relax, and even hop on a train to Lisbon, where a friend of mine from Manchester was.

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One of my favourite places in Porto was, as you would expect, the Mercado do Bolhão – a covered food market close to where we were staying. While the ground floor was full of tourists, the first floor was much less busy, and slightly cheaper. You would mainly find fruits and vegetables, but one section of the ground floor was dedicated to live poultry. At the back of the market, a couple of restaurants sell local dishes like the francesinha. The francesinha, (the little French girl haha) would deserve a whole paragraph for itself. This specialty from Porto is a sandwich that contains no less than 4 types of meat: beef tongue, sausage, ham, and more beef, between two slices of bread, topped with cheese, an egg, and a spicy sauce, with a side of chips. We had one francesinha between the two of us at the cafeteria Santiago, which is known for serving some of the best ones. We did not dare to go anywhere else for a second try, as although we enjoyed it, we were not ready for another francesinha-induced food coma.

Another Portuguese classic we very much enjoyed was the infamous pasteis de nata, or egg-custard tart, with a healthy rate of a three or four a day. You can find them at every corner, but we liked the one from Confeitaria do Bolhão, a bakery located just across the market. One evening, we wound up in the lovely Mercearia das Flores on Rua das Flores, a wonderful little deli offering cheese and meat boards, salads with fish, and delicious wine. You can also buy high-quality canned sardines, tuna and mackerel to take home.

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Now, I must admit, part of this trip was successful thanks to Spotted by Locals, for which I worked when I still lived in Manchester. The Spotters’ network gave me the opportunity to meet fellow spotters Tiago and Marta, who took us to some of their favourite places. We spent an afternoon with Tiago and his friends at the Jardim das Virtudes, a hidden gem of a park with a view on the Douro River, and then having beers on the steps of cathedral . A couple of days later, we met up with Marta, who took us to what I think is the best restaurant I have been to in my life. Miss’ Opo is a stylish yet non-pretentious restaurant in the city centre, which also happens to be a guest house. I cannot begin to describe how good the food was. Everything was fresh, locally-sourced, a mix of traditional Portuguese ingredients with a modern take. We ordered dishes to share and although I cannot remember everything we had (it’s been two years!!), I do remember the alheira (a traditional Portuguese sausage), the sweet pear salad, and the banana and carob frozen pie. We went back on our last night in Porto, and I remember the interesting experience of making my own salad: you choose a can of fish out of a basket, which you accommodate with a fresh tomato, and season with herbs, olive oil and vinegar to your own taste. The menu changes almost daily and is seasonal.

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Although we admittedly spent a good amount of time eating, we also explored Porto’s cultural attractions, and I fondly remember the Serralves Museum. It is a bit out of the way and we ended up having to take a taxi there, but it was well worth the trek. The museum is located in Foz de Douro. It is surrounded by a huge park, shared with the Casa de Serralves. This villa was designed in the mid-1920s and was finished in the 1940s, offering a setting that reminded us of vintage James Bond films. Apart from its interesting architecture, the museum boasts a large collection of contemporary art pieces across 14 galleries by Portuguese and other international artists.

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Three days in Barranco (Lima)

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What struck me as we went down the Costanera, Lima’s coastal highway, from the airport to Barranco, was the way the city hung to the cliffs that dominated the ocean. In Barranco, the ocean is ever-present: you can hear it, smell it, and almost touch it.

We made it to Lima after 6 days in Cusco, on an unexpectedly sunny Sunday afternoon in August. We arrived just in time to catch our lovely Airbnb host Claudia before she went to the beach to enjoy this unexpectedly warm day. She advised us to go just around the corner to El Muelle for lunch. We left behind our backpacks and hiking shoes and started our longed-for city-break with delicious fresh seafood. Starving, we ordered a piqueo – a huge sharing platter with causa, ceviche, arroz chaufan con mariscos and chicharrones – and a cold Peruvian beer.

img_5715We then walked down to see the ocean despite the cold wind brought by the evening and watched as surfers were packing up their gear and that first day in Barranco drew to a close. Before we headed back to our room, we went for a stroll around the neighbourhood, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in Lima. Crossing on the Puente de los Suspiros, we figured it was also one of the most appreciated by tourists and locals alike, but during weekdays it revealed to be quieter.

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While in Cusco, we were spoilt with a great breakfast served in a sunny patio every day, and were therefore not keen to go back to making our own just yet. Claudia told us of two of her favourites nearby: Las Vecinas and La Panetteria. We first went to Las Vecinas, a very cool café/health food store/art space. The breakfast options were interesting, and I had a quinoa honey porridge, and my sister had chestnut pancakes, all with local fruits. It was nearly empty on a Monday morning, and we appreciated the relaxing vibe.

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The following day, we gave La Panetteria a try. As it was a bank holiday commemorating Santa Rosa de Lima, it was much busier and we had to stand for a while before getting a table. However, the sight of the beautiful croissants, sweet pastries and cakes on the counter kept us from losing patience. When we were finally sat in a cosy corner, we’d already considered all our options and decided to keep it simple and ordered croissants, avocado, toasts, fruits and homemade granola, and homemade passion fruit juice. The croissants were absolutely amazing, as was the bread; and my sister is still gushing about the fruit salad. After investigating a bit, I found out that three friends, a Peruvian, an Italian, and an Argentine, owned La Panetteria, hence the mix of Latin American and European influences in their products and menu. My sister insisted we went back the following day, for another round of croissants and Peruvian fruit salad, to which we added apple/oat and chocolate chip cookies that were so good we got more for our flight back to Santiago the day after.

Walking around Barranco, we were struck by the colourful colonial-style houses, not unlike some we had seen in Santiago de Chile. Some of them house art galleries and local designer shops, as well as cafes like the ones previously mentioned. There are however newer buildings, some from the 1980s like the house we stayed at, and some probably even more recent, especially closer to the sea front. To a certain extent, they add to the eclectic charm of Barranco, despite hinting at a a certain degree of gentrification in this peripheral part of Lima. We took great pleasure out of exploring the streets of Barranco, sometimes catching a glimpse of the ocean, or hearing its soothing whisper.

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Some parts of the neighbourhood also boast graffiti, some taking up whole façades, and I sometimes dream of going back, with the promise that although the colours will have changed, the free spirit of Barranco will remain.

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A few days in the Netherlands – Vintage shopping, museums and culinary diary

Last week I finally had the chance to visit the Netherlands, something I had been looking to do for a long time. I went first to The Hague for the weekend then spent a few days in Amsterdam. I will mainly talk about The Hague here since I feel like less has been written on it (usually, everyone goes to Amsterdam), and I absolutely loved it. However, as I cannot hope to write the perfect guide to The Hague after spending three days there, I will write about the few things I most enjoyed. You can find the address for all the places in bold at the bottom. I arrived there on a sunny afternoon, which quickly turned into a very rainy evening. After a stroll around the city centre, me and the friend I was visiting went to the former fishermen village of Scheveningen to enjoy freshly caught fish at the iconic Simonis Aan de Haven. From kibbeling (a kind of Dutch traditional fish and chips) to grilled salmon and herring sandwiches, Simonis offers a large selection of seafood, in a corny yet charming sea-themed décor (think sea shells and sand on the tables and fake sharks and stingrays hung to the ceiling), and I very much recommend you pay it a visit.

We then walked along the beach from the fishing port to the other part of Scheveningen where the leisure port is. Despite the rain, the walk was very pleasant: there are plenty of sculptures and interesting buildings to keep you entertained, aside from the beautiful beach. We went past a colourful surf village, which was as empty as they are crowded in the summertime, but nonetheless enchanting. We reached the Kurhaus, in which the Rolling Stones played their first European concert in 1964, now a hotel surrounded with fancy restaurants and tacky entertainment centres.

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We then went back to The Hague, which is only a short tramway ride away (take the number 1 or 17), and went to the local art cinema, the Filmhuis, which is the equivalent of our Mancunian Cornerhouse. You can relax and have a drink and some food while waiting for the film to start, in a cosy yet spirited atmosphere. We went there randomly with no particular idea as to which film we should watch, and ended up seeing Une Nouvelle Amie (The New Girlfriend), the latest film starring French actor Romain Duris. What we thought would be a typical French rom-com turned out to be a psychological thriller, about love, death, and gender identity. It was an interesting film, and Romain Duris, along with the very talented Anaïs Demoustier are truly remarkable. You can watch the trailer here.

The following day, we all went to Delft, which is about 20 minutes on the tram from the city centre. I would not be honest if I did not say that I fell in love with this place. Although it is a pretty big town, its vibe is that of a small village, with cool pubs, restaurants, and, as I soon found out, lots of vintage, antique, and second-hand charity shops. Colin, the friend we were visiting goes to Delft every so often just to go to those shops, where you can find absolutely anything, from old (functioning) cameras for 2€ to handbags and liquor glasses. My favourite find is a 1980 mug commemorating Queen Beatrix’s crowning, which I found in a second-hand shop on the picturesque Markt, where the Nieuwe Kerk Cathedral is located. The Terre des Hommes shop offers an interesting selection of clothing, kitchen items, and books. If you take a stroll around the centre and along the canals, you will be able to find plenty more. We also stopped at the public library where we had a delicious appeltaart, the traditional Dutch apple tart with whipped cream on the side. On the cultural side, Delft has been the main centre for Dutch pottery manufacturing for centuries, and is where William of Orange was assassinated in 1584. It is also a very student-y city, as it boasts the prestigious Delft University of Technology.

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In the evening, back to The Hague, our first intention was to go to de Boterwaag for dinner, but it is a very popular venue especially on a Saturday night and we couldn’t get a table. We thus ended up going to Rootz, which is reputedly the best Belgian restaurant in the Netherlands. The menu is laid out in such a way that whichever dish you order, you can choose the suitable beer or wine, which is actually an excellent idea. The chips were to die for, and so was the accompanying handmade mayo. Three of us had the runderstoof, which is a traditional Flemish beef stew, and my dad had mussels cooked in white wine. It was all delicious and of excellent quality and I do recommend you go there. On the Sunday, after visiting the Mauritshuis, which exhibits paintings by the best Flemish artists, we had a stroll around the city centre and came across the most amazing vintage shop, called Acendi. Located on Papestraat in the Royal Palace district, among posh designer shops, this small boutique is a real treasure. There you can find sophisticatedly yet unpretentiously curated vintage pieces of clothing at a very reasonable price, and especially when I went because they had sales going on. For less than 100€ I managed to get a faux sheepskin coat, two skirts, a dress and a blouse, all in excellent condition. They had a large selection of lovely blouses, leather trousers, extravagant dresses, among other things, and I definitely would have bought more if I hadn’t been worried about airport luggage restriction…

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Amsterdam

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After these three days in The Hague I went to Amsterdam for another couple of days and although it was my first time there I came across a few very good places, which I am going to share with you. The hotel was located in Amstel, near a street called Utrechtsestraat, where you can find a lot of Indonesian restaurants as well as a few Indian places. There are also plenty of boutiques, which all have that cool vibe I quite like. Also, go have a look at Marqt, a large organic/health food shop which sells delicious bread among other things, located on that same street (there are a couple more around Amsterdam). On the last day before leaving we also had lunch in the café downstairs from Hotel Toon. In this tastefully decorated café-bar, you can enjoy Mediterranean-inspired dishes such as Shakshuka (a kind of omelette with lots of tomato sauce, spices, and different toppings of your choice), and a roasted aubergine salad (which was supposed to have pomegranate, but they had ran out so we got red currants instead, and it worked well). They also have different types of bagels, salads and cakes at a reasonable price. For drinks you can have beer, wine, and tea/coffee. The atmosphere is very pleasant, and I particularly liked the music, which was a mix of Latin and Eastern-European inspired tunes. Just round the corner from the hotel was the Bar Lempicka, a rather sophisticated yet really welcoming brasserie where you can enjoy nice wine and nibbles, or a more substantial meal if you feel like it, and the staff is very friendly.

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Near the Rijks Museum is a great little street called Nieuwe Spiegelstraat, on which there are plenty of antique shops and art dealers, and two shops that retained my attention. The first one is Episode, which sells, yes you guessed right, vintage clothing. It is more messy than Acendi but the choice is enormous, and if you’re not too much in a hurry, take the time to look through the racks, you might find some great pieces in there. Episode also has three other shops in Amsterdam, one in Utrecht, Haarlem, Brussels, Copenhagen and Paris. The second one is Van Roselen, a family-business that sells all sorts of fine chocolates and chocolate from around the world, which would please even the fussier chocolate-eater (you can buy chocolate with up to 99% cocoa for instance).

And finally, I must add that this trip was the occasion for a museum marathon (7 in 5 days!), and although I recommend you go to Mauritshuis and the Rijks museum because of they show beautiful pieces by Vermeer and Rembrandt among others, there is a less famous museum I strongly recommend. The Tropenmuseum is a large ethnographic museum located in East Amsterdam, a bit out of the city centre. It is nonetheless worth doing the extra mile for if you like the study of non-Western cultures. From India and Morocco to Mexico and Papua, the history and culture of the peoples of the world is presented and explained, and there are also special sections on the colonial history of the Netherlands. Suitable for people of any age (there are special activities for children), I strongly recommend you go to this captivating museum.

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The Parade – Tropenmuseum

Here are the addresses of the different places I mentioned all along this entry, sorted by city and alphabetical order. I hope you enjoyed reading about this trip, and if you have any questions, recommendations or opinion on the matter please let me know.

Amsterdam

Bar Lempicka – Sarphatistraat 23

Episode – Nieuwe Spiegelastraat 61

Marqt – Utrechtsestraat 17

Toon – Utrechtsestraat 18

Tropenmuseum – Linnaeusstraat 2

Van Roselen – Nieuwe Spiegelastraat 72

Delft

DOK Delft Public Library – Vesteplein 100

Terre des Hommes – Nieuwe Langendijk 33

Scheveningen

Kurhaus – Gevers Deynootplein 30

Simonis – Visafslagweg 20 (you can also find Simonis in the centre of The Hague at Gedempte Gracht 405H)

The Hague

Acendi – Papestraat 3

Filmhuis Den Haag – Spui 191

Rootz – Grote Marktstraat 14

#Şiirsokakta – Poetry on the streets of Istanbul

Saying that Istanbul is a city full of surprises is a terribly ordinary statement, and euphemism at its finest. Whoever has been to this marvelous metropolis would agree with me. Şiir sokakta, literally « poetry on the street », is one of those surprises. As I was strolling around the Cihangir area looking for The Museum of Innocence (more to come about that in a future article), I saw that the facade of some houses were covered with quotations and poems. My knowledge of the Turkish language being rather limited, I struggled to understand them, but nonetheless took pictures of them to try and translate them later with the help of a dictionary. It turned that they were quite complex, and I had to ask my Turkish friends for extra help.

While most of these poems were about love, beauty or life, some of them had a political dimension.

I would like to introduce you to my favorite ones, that were all located on a beautiful blue and pink building on the way between Tophane and the Galata Tower.

The first one that caught my attention, and that happens to be my favorite was written by Özdemir Asaf, as I found out upon investigating. The translation goes as follows : ‘She (he) said wait I will come back and then she (he) was gone/I did not wait/she (he) did not come back/it was something like death/but nobody died’.

The second one is only a sentence : ‘It was the happiest time of my life, but I did not know.’ It appears to be the first sentence of Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence, which narrates the tragic love story of Kemal and Füsun, in mid-1970s Istanbul. Although I have visited the museum itself, I am still reading the book, so more to come about it in the future.

I could not establish the origin of this particular one. If someone knows who wrote it please let me know ! The translation is : ‘It seems that as beautiful this city is, as blue the sea is ‘.

Another one, written by Metin Altıok, is, I think, rather mysterious : ‘It is as if me and mine / in front and behind / in the corridor of me.’ If you have an alternative translation please let me know, because as you can see this one is rather clumsy. This is only part of a stanza in the poem ‘Kendinin Avcısı’, which you can find here.

Finally, this one, written by the popular poet Edip Cansever proved to be extremely hard to translate. Instead of providing an approximative translation, I would rather simply share the picture with you, until I manage to find a good one. Same, if you do have one, please let me know, and you will be rewarded with my eternal gratitude (or a coffee !). It’s been brought to my attention by a friend of mine that this quote is a part of a very long poem titled ‘Sera Oteli’, which you can find here.

If you type #siirsokakta into Twitter or Instagram, you will be able to find an extened collection of poetical graffitis in Turkish. I find this initiative very intriguing. Taking poetry to the streets is something that I greatly praise, as being yet another way of sharing the beauty that words can create.

Breakfast @ Lazare, the award-winning train station brasserie

French people do not eat croissants everyday, despite the stereotype. Even more now that I have spent time in Manchester, I have always been more of a porridge or muesli kinda person (I will probably have my passport taken away from me for saying that!). However, when in Paris, I wouldn’t say no to a nice pain au chocolat, especially from Chef Eric Frechon’s new brasserie.

My experience of railway station dining so far has been utterly disappointing industrial sandwiches and very expensive tasteless salads. Not great, hence my scepticism about having breakfast at the Saint-Lazare station.
I was then delightfully surprised when we entered Lazare, which far from being your average train station food outlet, is in fact an award-winning brasserie (Brasserie of the year by the Guide Pudlo in 2014). Located in the shopping arcade in the station between two random chain shops, I would have never guessed such a place would have taken up residence there. But oh well!

The main sitting room is elegantly decorated, with dark wood, comfortable chairs, and white crockery.
We showed up fairly early on a Saturday morning, so it was virtually empty. The service was good and very neat, like you would expect in this kind of restaurant. Luckily the waiter did not have this “too good for you” attitude that waiters in this kind of places sometimes have, and was very attentive.

The breakfast menu is very concise, you can either have a croissant (or pain au chocolat), or tartines (fresh baguette topped with butter and jam), and you can choose from a range of hot beverages and freshly squeezed orange juice. Quite traditional, and very French indeed.

Individually, the items on the menu are very pricey (around 7€ for a cappuccino, 3€ for a croissant), but if you come before 11am you pay 10€ for a hot drink, an orange juice (fresh), and a croissant/pain au choc/tartine. Considering that a similar breakfast in an average brasserie in the area would cost you around 8€, it is quite reasonably priced. But now, what makes the difference between the breakfast at Lazare and that of an “average brasserie”?

First of all, the pain au chocolat that I had was very good: not too buttery and the chocolate inside was very fine. I believe that all pain au chocolat weren’t created equal, and this one was definitely at the top. My parents had a croissant and a tartine, which according to them were equally good. The drinks however weren’t outstanding, still better than the bottled orange juice that we had the following morning in said average brasserie. The cappuccino, although topped with an impressive asymmetrical foam, was not exceptionally good.

All in all, Lazare is a pleasant place, the breakfast is simple yet of good quality, and the service is spotless. I would not specifically go out of my way to have breakfast there, but if you are around Saint-Lazare with an empty stomach, it is a good place to go. If you intend to have lunch or dinner there though, I think you should book well in advance, as it is quite a trendy venue.

This is the last post with bad pictures, as I have finally retrieved my camera, which I had forgotten at home when I moved back to Manchester in September (how could I, I wonder…). Next post will be about a place in Manchester, now that I am back here!

Restaurant Lazare Paris
Parvis de la Gare Saint-Lazare, Rue Intérieure, 75008 Paris
+33 1 44 90 80 80

‘Je m’appelle Niki de Saint Phalle et je fais des sculptures monumentales’ – Exhibition at the Grand Palais

As a child I grew up in a very much culture oriented environment. Being a millennial little girl also inclined me to appreciate female artists. I was thus, by the age of 8ish, able to say that Niki de Saint Phalle was one of my favourite artists, after seeing a documentary broadcast after her death in 2002.
However, at such a young age, what fascinated me about Niki was her project for a park inspired by Gaudi’s Parque Guell, and Les Nanas, those big, colourful sculptures of figuratively powerful women, which is what she is mostly remembered for.


I then, somehow, moved on and forgot about her. However, when an exhibition dedicated to her at the Grand Palais coincided with me randomly spending a weekend in Paris, I decided to give it a chance and go.
For those who do not know her, Niki de Saint Phalle is French and American sculptor and painter born in the 1930s in an aristocratic family, and was educated in a convent. She was raped by her father as a child, and was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young woman. After being a model, she decided to dedicate her life to art, recognising the healing power it had on her tortured mind.
The exhibition was chronologically organised, to reflect the artist’s evolution. If at first, she represented violence through collages, under the concept of creation through destruction, she then moved on to making pieces representing an extremely deep psychological insight and reflection.

She strongly believed in woman empowerment, and conceived and represented women as protective, creative, loving, and complex. She believed that with the failure of Communism and Capitalism, what the world needed (and probably still needs) was a matriarchal society, giving a political dimension to her art. Through Les Nanas, those gigantic sculptures, she sought to represent women in and of power, women with attitude, seeking greatness, ready to take over a world ‘where everything was invented by guys’, in her own words.

What impresses most now is her reflection on love and relationships, through a series of drawings made in the late 1960s. Her drawings ‘what shall I do now that you’ve left me?’ and ‘why don’t you love me?’ depict the distress that love, and lack of reciprocity in love, can cause.
Another one titled ‘could we have loved?’ explores the unstable dimension of the concept of soulmate on which we always seek to base our love relationships: ‘had we met some other time could it have been you instead of him?’ She addresses the issue of possibility and commitment, but also of deep love and the intimacy it supposes: ‘my love what are you doing?’, ‘are you you driving your new car/are you drinking bloody mary?’

 

She also reflected on her background and her relationship with religion, and her parents.
Although she saw women as loving and protective, she also made a series of sculptures titled ‘The devouring mothers’, in which she gruesomely represented the endless (emotional?) greed of women, mothers, her mother, and the petty bourgeois routine characteristic of her family’s social background. Instead of colorful opulent women, these sculptures represent ridiculous fat ladies with greyish hair, old-fashioned purses and dresses, and pearl necklaces. The film ‘Daddy’, directed in 1973, seeks to openly address the abuse she suffered, imposed on her by her father, with crudeness, exposing the facts as they were in an attempt to show everyone what happened.

Niki de Saint Phalle used different techniques to express herself, including a very peculiar one: she would shoot on a blank canvas with a rifle, aiming at bags full of paint, which would then explode and drip. The canvas itself would be a sculpture: objects stuck to, or carved into a blank surface. With this comes again the theme of creation through destruction. According to the artist herself, she was literally shooting ‘on violence’, hers and that of her time. The shooting session were often made public and some of them were even shown on TV.  Here is a link to a video showing them.

Upon seeing this impressive exhibition I discovered that there was much more to Niki de Saint Phalle than colourful sculptures and extravagant parks. Her whole work is incredibly subtle and powerful, showing the artist’s genius and sensitivity.

If you happen to be in Paris before the 2nd of February do go see this exhibition at the Grand Palais, it is spectacular. However make sure you buy tickets online beforehands as it gets very crowded and the queue is endless.

I took all the pictures at the exhibition, the quality isn’t amazing but it gives you an idea of what you can see there, I hope you enjoy it!