Sunday, May 31, 2009

There's more to life than books, you know. But not much more.

Driving through Northumberland recently, I happened upon heaven disguised as a second-hand bookshop.  

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Barter Books in Alnwick has been described as "The British Library of secondhand books" though in my opinion it's even better than the BL because you can take the books home with you! The shop is housed in an old railway station that is filled to the rafters with every type of book under the sun, as well as a little café, a children's area, and tons of reading space. After much coveting of the huge selection of first editions and out-of-print paperbacks I finally settled on a lovely old copy of "The Wishing Chair Again" plus two biographies (Helene Hanff & JRR Tolkein) - only the realization that if I bought any more books they wouldn't let me back on the plane stopped me from taking home half the store. 


If you're a lover of second-hand bookshops and anywhere nearby the Scottish border (I passed through on my way from Edinburgh to York) it's definitely worth the detour. Alnwick itself is a pretty town, perfect for a lunch stop, and as a bonus it has the added drawcard of Alnwick castle (which - for Harry Potter nerds - happens to be the castle that Hogwarts is based on). 

Off to read a book, 

Alice x 

(P.S. Title quote is from The Smiths' song Handsome Devil. Hurrah for pop-culture references.) 

Friday, May 29, 2009

Let's be serious for a second

(Via Jezebel, Israeli children playing in an illegal Jewish settlement in Ramallah on the West Bank. )

I've been working on an essay this week focussing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and then just this morning I logged onto Jezebel and saw this photograph which made me stop and reconsider everything I've been reading. It's been all too easy, from the comfort of my apartment, to be condescending and even flippant about the sources of the conflict, and to judge those who are perpetuating it. For days now, I've been writing about the frustrating political deadlock that various governments have seemed unable (and sometimes unwilling) to try and solve. It had come to the point where I was so caught up in the political rhetoric, I'd forgotten about the human element to these kind of conflicts. This photograph pulled me up short. 

Yes, horrible mistakes have been committed by both sides. But these three little girls? They've done nothing wrong. You cannot blame the children for the sins of their parents. 

I'm not sure what the solution is here, because as far as I can see there is no moral high ground to escape to. But for the people living in these countries, there is no escape at all. The only way that these children can grow up having happy, safe lives is if the political leaders of their communities can come to some sort of an agreement. The paths that their lives will take is proof that politics is about more than just rhetoric. I'm glad to have been reminded of it. 

Alice x 

Saturday, May 16, 2009

where troubles melt like lemondrops

The sun was sparkling over the Mediterranean as we strolled down the path from one postcard-perfect village to the next.  We stopped for coffee at a tiny cafe literally hanging over the side of the cliff and watched as, further down the path, some fellow-walkers abandoned their hike for an improputu swim. Was there anything, we pondered, that could make already-magical Cinque Terre feel more like wonderland? 

Well, how about a pair of playful butterflies, flittering around us as we walked? Oh, yes, we had those too. 


Somedays you just get lucky. 


Alice x 

P.S. More on Cinque Terre coming soon, as well as London, Cambridge, York, Epernay, Versailles, Bruges and Amsterdam! Oh la la, the places I have been lately - scarcely time to breathe. And with summer just around the corner, too... 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

and a rustle of tulle from the wings...

Last night some friends and I got all dolled up in our swishest frocks and headed out to the prettiest venue in Paris, the Opera Garnier. We had tickets to see Onéguine  (a classical ballet based on the novel by Pushkin) but as excited as we were about the show, we were just as interested in getting a peek inside the amazing building that is the Palais Garnier. 


Our tickets themselves were thanks to a parisienne insider tip which I'll share with you all (but shhh!): if you go directly to the box office at the opera house you can get "limited visibility" tickets for all the shows for super-cheap that aren't available online - ours were 10 euros! The view was a little bit limited from our seats, which were the back row of one of the boxes, but we found that we could always stand up if the dancers went out of our line of sight and then we could see perfectly. Which was totally acceptable for 10! (especially considering a ticket to get into the opera house to sightsee when there are no shows on costs 8€- for the extra 2 you get a ballet thrown in!)


The Opera Garnier is the building that inspired Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera (which also happens to be my favourite musical of all time). I kept an eye out for the phantom all night, but he didn't make an appearance, though his infamous chandeliers were glitteringly present. 


In any case, even if the curtains had never opened, it would have been 10€ well spent for a night out in Paris. Now don't you go telling everyone about those cheap seats - at least not until I've bought my next ticket! (I'm thinking La fille mal gardée in June - it was one of my favourite ballets when I used to dance). 

Happy opera-going! 
Alice x 

P.S. Onéguine was lovely, I definitely recommend it if you're going to be in Paris before it ends on the 20th of May.