Morocco – Jewel of the North

Still thinking about where to go this autumn school holidays? How about stepping back in time and embarking on an adventure in Morocco?  We traveled with our 2 boys, now 8 and 4 years old, to …

Source: Morocco – Jewel of the North

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Cuba Calling

This is my first time visiting Latin America and I can’t imagine a better place to start with than Cuba.

It is a momentous time for this beautiful Caribbean island – the last fraying thread of the iron curtain snapping with the recent visit from President Obama.

Many people have told us before we flew out that going to Cuba is like traveling back in time to the hedonistic lifestyle of the 1950s, punctuated by decadence, fancy cars, opulent villas and sensuous song and dance all wrapped up in the heady smokes of cigars and the intoxicating burn of well-aged rum.

What we saw in reality is a more sepia version of that romantic notion of Cuba. To me, it is as if the ancient and modern, the opulence and austerity, the spontaneity of music and the curfews on social life are all merging to create a new Cuban identity that is both relevant and timeless at the same time.

We caught a glimpse of this emerging new identity with Chanel fashion house holding their very first Latin American fashion show last week in the Prado Boulevard 300 meters from our hotel. We also saw the first American cruise ship dock in the Havana port after the last one was allowed to sailed in 50 years ago. The old weapons of invasion – missles and economic embargoes have now been replaced by fashion, pop culture, social media and the tourism dollar. And the impact is a lot quicker too.

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Stargazing at the Chanel fashion show – Tilda Swinton

We love the vintage cars – the ‘Old-Timers’ with their repainted and glued on (a million times I think) chrome (more matt now) fenders, their bright colors, the cracked vinyl bench seats that you can’t help but leave sweaty thigh imprints on and the naughty vibrations in the car every time the drivers shift gears. It is not unusual to see cars being fixed on the side of a busy road or a few people trying to push start a car.

You can clearly see the influence of the Spanish colonial masters in their beautiful architecture. Many buildings have high, brightly colored walls, intricate albeit faded frescoes, imposing living spaces, and very tall windows and doors. A lot of the monuments, theatres and religious sanctuaries in Old Havana are kept in surprisingly pristine conditions. However they often stand alongside buildings in precarious state of decay and misery, some with only the front façade of a concrete wall with rusty steel beams jutting out.

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– an amazing restaurant with quality service, ambience and food. Obama and his family dined here recently

The food in Cuba is amazing, and you can find grilled lobster on the menus of most reputable restaurants. Music and singing is very much part of the eating experience with a small band playing in the background in most bars and dining places.

The Cuban people are very friendly and easy going; random people kept coming up to us to ask where we are from and whether they can show us around and give us any information. Initially we were abit suspicious, but after the first day, we realize they were genuinely curious to find out about other cultures and people of different nationalities.

Key museums to visit are the Museum of the Revolution, Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Rum. It is definitely interesting to read important documents pertaining to crucial historical events from the local perspective and see first-hand, the crude weapons the militants used in their fight for freedom. I love the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Cuba art is so vibrant in themes, styles and colors and that you feel like you are walking through the pages of a children’s storybook where history, culture and politics are reduced to their basic form that everyone, young and old can understand. The Cubans take their alcohol, notably Rum, or ‘Ron’ in spanish, very seriously. We were treated to a very informative tour of the entire rum making process at the Museum of Ron and ended the tour with a rum tasting session. image.jpeg

The highlight for me on this trip was when we chanced upon a restaurant featuring a music act called the ‘Traditionals of the 50s’. We were blown away by the quality of the band and the singers although they all look like they were at least 60 years old. 91 year old singer Juana Bacallo, famously known as the ‘Black goddess of Cuban music’ came out at the end of the show. Her voice is still strong and commanding, and like a witch doctor, if felt as if she had cast a spell on the captive audience, drawing everyone in through her very presence. The hairs on my arms stood up when she started singing. It was such a privilege and honor to see her perform in person.image.jpeg

It will be interesting to see how much the social, cultural and political fabric of Cuba will change in the next few years. I don’t know how many in the same league as Juana Bacallo will still be around to show the world Cuba’s beauty, strong spirit and resilience.

Zurich just became a little more hip and cool…

… like it was a century ago.

Switzerland has never been known to be a magnet for the creative and literary arts in Europe. Unlike Paris, known for being the pulsating center for the artistic avant-garde, the Scandinavia for their minimalistic Nordic coolness, or Barcelona for its Picasso-Miro-Gaudi eclecticism, Zurich is more known for its staid work ethic and clockwork efficiency.

Tada!

FullSizeRender (31)It came as a surprise to me that 100 years ago, the present little bar/student cafe in the heart of Zurich old town – Cabaret Voltaire, was where the Dada movement, the predecessor of the more famous Surrealism (Salvador Dali) was born.

After World War 1 in the 1920s, neutral Zurich became the natural meeting point for many European artists and a sort of ‘anti’ art emerged – where anything in your day-to-day life can be used as a form of artistic expression. The Dada mandate became a visualized critique of the war led by Germany and nationalistic sentiments.

A series of art shows, talks, city tours and even a costume ball will be conducted throughout Zurich for its centennial celebrations from February to July. A special 165 Days of Feast will culminate in a Dada Benediction with reference to the Holy Catholic Mass at the Cabaret Voltaire. I think it is very fitting that the Mass will give the Dada blessing to Lady Gaga.

Swiss visual-arts maestro

I couldn’t help but snicker at the name Pipilotti. (Isn’t it the name of a Swiss cartoon character?) Besides the ‘Dadaglobe’ exhibition, the Kunsthaus is currently showcasing a retrospective exhibition by the Swiss-born female artist, Pipilotti Rist.

Bizarrely titled ‘Your saliva is my diving suit in the ocean of pain’, it is an entire pitch-black floor space filled with her object assemblages and video sculptures.

I like her audiovisual installation ‘Yoghurt on skin, velvet on TV’ made up of 3 big seashells and handbags with built-in LCD monitors. If you look closely inside the shell, you can see a giant moving eye peering through.

Another interesting one is ‘Little Make-up table with feedback’, with an array of jewelry, make up and knick knack casually thrown on a dressing table. If you look at the mirror, you see a video clip of someone puckering her luscious red-stained lips. It is as if the subject becomes the object, the protagonist seeing how something or some situation is seen from the ‘opposite side of the mirror’ so to speak.

The most arresting installation would have to be the large chandelier above a non-descript dining table, made up of many pairs of underwear with colored lights projected on it called ‘Cape Cod Chandelier’. These 2 art exhibitions at the Zurich Kunsthaus are definitely worth visiting. I don’t want to post up too many photos so you can experience the art in person.

In the spirit of Dadaism and experiencing the visual arts, care to buy a pair of funky spectacle frames along bahnhofstrasse?

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Keeping up with 2016

Are we close to the end of February already?

For some reason, the Christmas festivities and craziness seem to extend well into 2016 and I am still trying to play catch up.

I think it has something to go with the fact that my husband’s been away a fair bit, the weather’s been dreary and we’ve got an influx of visitors from far and wide coming to stay with us almost every other weekend.

After staying in Switzerland and experiencing change in seasons for almost 8 years, I still haven’t really warmed up (pun intended) to the biting cold, flu bugs, dry flaky skin, body aches and skies turning dark at 5pm.

The ski/snowboard devil, together with his earthly minions disguised as cool, crazy friends, has abducted my husband and kids for the whole season, somewhat akin to Hades keeping Persephone in the underworld. Anyone who knows my husband knows I am not exaggerating here!

IMG_3088I’ve survived and conquered the Sports Ferien at our ski apartment in the mountains last week with 2 families and 7 young boys! My husband was travelling for the week, one of the mums was working 100% so she couldn’t join us but bizarrely it was the most relaxing week I’ve had since mid December. The boys and dads were skiing the whole day so the mayhem only came in the evening with everyone vying for showers and snacks, the womenfolk preparing dinner and winding the kids down for the night’s sleep.

The New Year really came with a blast for me personally. I am finally brave enough, or maybe it was the chaos and busyness of entering into a new year that propelled me to pursue my passion in painting. The last time I’ve painted was perhaps 6 years ago, and it was a fleeting hobby that I never really indulge in with 2 young kids taking up most of my time and draining most of my energy.

The kids are still a handful but a lot less dependent on me now. They are a source of inspiration to me and I find the peace and quiet within me through painting to survive the lack of sunshine and the mundane daily routine.

My boys love seeing me in my element when I am sitting on the cold floor with paint blotches all over my hands and I think they do feel proud that mommy is becoming an artist! Of course they still complain that my cooking sucks and I still mix up my husband and kids’ underwear every now and then…

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You can check out my complete art portfolio at amyangatelier.wordpress.com

 

A winter sonata

imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageComing from a tropical island with no seasons, I’m always amazed by the bronze, amber and yellow falling autumn leaves, the mysterious swirly fog (well the smog that blows through from Indonesia doesn’t count!), blooming spring flowers and heady lavender scents. The snow capped mountains and wintry landscapes are the most special to me. I can’t help but feel so tiny standing in a vast, white soft field of… Nothing. Everything feels clean, pure and quiet in winter.

Surreal Beauty of Switzerland

We fell in love with a little quaint, quiet town Andermatt in canton Uri and have been coming back in winter for the past 4 years and recently in summer for hikes, bike rides through the furka pass and Rock climbing too. I did 2 paintings recently of surreal scenes in this mountainous region.

Spider-Man in the making

Last September my husband decided on a whim to bring my 7 year old son rock climbing even though he has no experience scaling any walls himself. The via Ferrata – diavolo, or ‘the devil’s climb’ in Andermatt in canton Uri is actually a pretty exciting n relatively easy rock face for beginners, as long as you have no fear of heights, have a strong resistance to chilly winds and of course appropriate climbing attire. See my husband’s attire for ‘what not to wear for climbing a rough rock face with a 90% probability of tripping over your own feet and face planting’.

The wily fox and 5 city girls

  Our friend celebrated her 30th birthday on Saturday and we were treated to a game called Foxtrail, the Swiss version of The Amazing Race, which gave us a good opportunity to discover Bern beyond its famous Zytglogge clock tower, beautiful cobbled streets in the old town and their beloved black bears.

We were divided into 4 groups doing 4 unique trails – 2 groups of 5 girls each, and 2 groups of 5 guys. My group comprised of 3 Singaporeans, 1 Indonesian and 1 Vietnamese, and of course, my little boy in the pram. Did I mention we are all from Zurich and do not speak or understand BERNESE Swiss german? 😉

It was a warm and sunny autumn day and our energy level was at an all time high when we were handed our trail paper with clues and instructions. It quickly dissipated when after 45mins, we were the only team still at the starting point, trying to figure out what we were suppose to do. We have 19 stops to make in 2 hours!!! We will miss the Apero! 

 It was a slow and bumpy start but we soon got our groove and took a special RKS train out of the city center in search of a church tower that led us deep into the woods. My little boy Nathan, who does a forest playgroup every Thursday, seems to know his way around the trees better than the 5 of us. We found a quaint restaurant tucked deep in the forest overlooking a beautiful river. Chickens, ducks and kids roamed around carefreely around the restaurant/farm. After finding our way out of the forest, this was civilization to us!

  We even got to ask a boatman for a clue (feels a little like crossing the River Styx except the boatman was not wearing a dark cloak and you don’t hear the cries of banished souls around us) and he rowed or should I say, held on to a long rope above him that is tied to the other end of the stream and literally ‘pulled’ us to the other side. I think it was only 200 meters away.

   
  


E The wily fox then led us through a long tunnel to… the border of Switzerland? We were all pretty amused to see the EU sign at one of our trail points. I didn’t see a tax refund booth close by though.

   

 We didn’t complete our trail but it was still an amazing experience. When we went to the end point for our apero and birthday celebration, it was exhilarating exchanging stories of our different routes. We were all pretty impressed by how organized and fun this experience was.

We will come back again and redo the same trail and hopefully, complete it so we can finally beat the wily fox!

http://www.foxtrail.ch

   

made it to the apero but the chips r all gone!