We don't get many kids knocking on the door around here at Halloween, because, I learned the other day, they all go down the road to St. Johns Wood. It's about a mile from us, and many of the people who live there are American, and they put amounts of time and money into their decorations in a way that hasn't seemed to catch on here. But the main thing, apparently, is that they're far more generous with their sweets. Naturally the local kids have noticed. We haven't had anyone at our door this evening!
I remembered about St Johns Wood and Halloween when T and I cycled along one of its larger roads and suddenly realised that the place looked like a magazine article on how to decorate for Halloween. Serious amounts of money had been spent, I think. Some of the gardens were expensive and elaborate, almost works of art in their way. The one below was very interesting, with skeletons climbing out of the basement and a rather nasty little demon on the left, clutching a pumpkin, among many other things.
Other displays were rather simple: just strings of eyeballs in the hedge....
Or nicely carved pumpkins, specially the cheeky one on the left.
And I really liked these three little ghosts. I had a book when I was a kid with a poem in it about "three little ghosties, sitting on posties, eating hot buttered toasties, " and I thought of that as I imagined these three rushing off to the kitchen to get their toast.
Other displays had slightly unnerving details - are those skeleton rats running up the stairs? They look a bit small to be cats, anyway, although I'm no expert.
One or two were downright scary. I wouldn't have fancied passing this at night. ...
Or enjoyed negotiating these fellas waiting right outside the front door.
But it was clear that this little skeleton meant no harm at all and was clearly enjoying the whole Halloween experience.
I hope the sweets lived up to the decorations!
Our trip to Paris seems a long time ago - well, five or six weeks now, but I promised to write about it, and so the rest of this post will be about Paris.
The reason we went was that my American cousin, Charlane, was visiting Provence at the end of the summer. We couldn't get to Provence to join them, but she took the train to Paris a couple of days before they were due to fly back.
It was so great to see her. We get on very well, and since this was her first real visit to Paris it meant that we got the chance to see some of the traditional sights and do some traditional "Paris" things of the type we generally skip ...like walking along the banks of the Seine....
It is such a beautiful river, shining many colours in the sun. We also visited Notre Dame, which is now well on the way to recovery after its devastating fire of 2019.
Huge crowds were milling around outside, viewing the large and interesting information boards which offered the latest news and information about the restoration. Charlane had watched what she thought was a very good National Geographic show about the fire and the restoration plans, and although it was slightly disappointing not to be able to see much behind the hoardings in real life, we did learn about how to get the latest news online on this very good site (in English as well as French) which is run by the Friends of Notre Dame. If you take a look, you may agree that they're making good progress on this massive task.
I am glad to say we got the chance to revisit the Cluny Museum, where I had not been for years. This is Paris's Museum of the Middle Ages, and one of its more recent major acquisitions is a group of ancient stone heads of what was once known as a "gallery of kings" from the facade of Notre Dame. Dating from the 13th century, they were supposed to be representations of the heads of past Kings of France, who were, of course, appointed by God. Naturally, the activists of the French Revolution were not keen on past kings of France, and even less keen on the idea of them being divinely appointed, so during the uprising they hacked all the heads off and threw them away. For many years it was thought that they had been destroyed or used for building-stone.
Imagine everyone's surprise when twenty-two of the heads and lots of other fragments were dug up in a garden about three kilometres away from Notre Dame, in 1977. Nobody had a clue how they had got there.
And it was also a bit late to return them to Notre-Dame. By the time it was restored in the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc, it had been decided the statues were not, after all, kings of France, but the Kings of Judah. So there was no objection to making some new king statues for Notre-Dame. Some very good new ones were made, and no room was left for the old ones. So they ended up here in Cluny where they have a bright, spacious gallery to themselves. As I wandered round looking and wondering about them, I wished for once that stones really could talk.
We could not be in Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower, even though we didn't have quite enough time to go up it.
It was impressive though, with the traffic passing beneath it and the city spread around. Just to add to the glamour, a photographer and stylist were creating wedding photos of a beautiful bride and her groom on the terrace overlooking the tower. I didn't get too close, not wanting to impinge on their pictures of the big day but it was a nice spot to see a bridal pair.
The Cluny Museum, by the way, is one of Paris's most interesting museums, at least in my opinion. It's in a large Gothic building in the rue du Sommerard, and is particularly famous for its tapestries, particularly the Lady and the Unicorn which I had seen a couple of times and was very happy to see again. I found the tapestries very hard to photograph - the "Unicorn" room was dimly lit and crowded - and although it was great to be able to go up close and see all the detail, my photos were terrible. So I can't show you my own pictures, but if you'd like to know more, just go here, to the museum's own website.
I also greatly appreciated another chance to see the carved wood misericords in the Cluny. Misericords are carvings under church seats, and usually show mischievous carvings of weird or rustic everyday scenes. Although they seem very odd things to find in a church, they are in many important old churches in France. They're also often found in important English churches too, probably because England was under Normandy's rule for quite a while after 1066, and picked up many French ideas.
Misericord carvings are normally hidden from view on the underside of hinged seats where monks or choirs would sit during particularly long services. Here's just one of the Cluny carvings - a poor woman wheeling her fat, drunken husband home in a wheelbarrow. It must have been a common sight, and the fed-up looking housewife is only too believable. Items like these bring home the reality of life in the past, and I really love them. I'm also very glad I didn't live then.
And of course we found and admired some of the lovely bread and cake shops which you can still find in Paris.
One thing we didn't do was fine dining, but Charlane had had some good meals with her friends in Provence, and by the time she went back to America, we'd done so much in such a short time that we didn't really miss the meals we could have had.
An hour or so before we parted from her, T. had his wallet pickpocketed on the metro. There were constant announcements on the trains to beware of pickpockets, but being big city dwellers we were not much worried. However this particular scam was unusual and clever, and T. drew some conclusions which he will put into effect the next time he visits Paris. First, (a) only bring the cards you definitely need - nothing more irritating than coming by train and then getting your driving license pinched. (b) All money cards and valuables to be kept in a money-belt or neck bag. (c) Rucksacks to be slung over one shoulder and clasped at the front of your body at all times.
To this might be added (d) don't sit down on public transport. A shame, but apparently as Paris also has a plague of bedbugs, as well as pickpockets, and the critturs supposedly like to hang out in upholstered seats in public places. Luckily we only found out about the bedbug plague after getting back to England, and we didn't encounter any bedbugs during our stay at all. If we had, I daresay we would have paid a visit to the famous Victorian pest-control shop of Julien Aurouze on rue des Halles. This photo was taken on a previous trip to Paris, but the shop is quite famous and it is still there. I hate killing animals, even vermin, but if it becomes really necessary, then this is the place to go.
I must say I'm glad they stopped selling food at Les Halles market, since it was clearly so necessary to have vermin control so handy.
We still had 3 days of our trip left after Charlane's departure, and after a horrible evening trying to stop bank cards and find our way into a Fort-Knox-like Airbnb seemingly run by a robot, things greatly cheered up the next day. I'll try to tell you some of that next time I post, although at this rate, with any luck, I will have returned to Paris for another trip by then!