Category Archives: Luxembourg

Philharmonie – Yuja Wang

Last night, I wandered off to the Philharmonie in Luxembourg to hear Yuja Wang play. I have seen some people write some rather positive things about her, lately about her rendition of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier.

Yesterday was a gorgeous spring day in Luxembourg and the temperature as I walked to the concert hall was about 20 degrees. Very pleasant. The concert was not fully sold out but there was not much choice left in the way of seat. The program was a full set of Chopin Preludes followed by a set of Brahms variations on a theme by Georg Handel. I was familiar with the theme in question although I am not sure where I heard it.

Anyway.

There’s something almost lonely about a concert grand alone on a stage. It’s a long walk from the side of the stage. For Yuja Wang, it’s a really long walk in very high heels. And yet somehow once she is sitting at that piano, she takes over the world.

There are a lot of words I could choose to describe her playing. She is unquestionably one of the great technicians of the piano, but there is something more there. Something elusive but something that says that right here, right now, the right place to be is in front of a piano, if you are Yuja Wang. I’ve seen a few concert pianists over the years, all unquestionably talented, but with the possible exception of Daniil Trifenov, none so totally joined to the piano in a unit.

The Chopin was in many respects, imperious. More power than I am used to hearing from these things. I sat there and wondered how my life would have been different if I had heard Chopin like this when I was about 12 years old.

The Brahms was very different. Less imposing and yet, very inviting.

Then there were the 7 encores. Du jamais vu, I kept hearing around me. Some Tchaikovsky. Some Rachmaninoff. Some Prokofiev. A Horowitz transcript of Mozart. Some Bizet. Some Schubert. This was watching someone who was not, as it were, just a performer. This is someone who just wanted to play the piano.

Utterly inspiring.

Old habits die and return all of a sudden

Most of my perfume is in Ireland but I must confess that at some point between around 2005 and 2010 I stopped wearing perfume regularly. I don’t really know why – it was around the same time I seemed to stop wearing rings on my fingers. Every once in a while, I reviewed the whole perfume situation and cleared out the stuff that made me feel vaguely nauseous if I sprayed it on (indicative of a bottle gone bad). So when I say my perfume is left in Ireland, there is a lot less of it than there used to be.

Somewhere along the lines, I discovered Hermes perfume – of course I have to have expensive tastes here – and theirs was the only perfume I bought over about four years. Three bottles of perfume in total. I even managed to finish out one. This was seriously at odds with my life 10 to 15 years previously.

For those who know me from the beach (most of the people who “know” me on Facebook to be honest), the fact that I might spend a good deal of time in perfume shops might be a surprise. It’s not as if I noticeably wore make up – which I still do not for various reasons – so what would I be doing in there.

I used to buy lots of perfume. Until the great clearouts with no replacements, I typically had around 25 different bottles of perfume to hand. Some dropped in and out of fashion for me. I started wearing Poison by Christian Dior when I was 16 because someone didn’t want a bottle they’d gotten as a present, and it moved to me. For the next five or six years, it was mostly that I wore – mostly because it was carefully eked out and also, because it really was the only one I knew. At some point though, I realised that I had changed and it wasn’t me any more. It dropped in and out of fashion a couple of more times but I don’t own a bottle of it any more and I can’t remember when I last did. It must be at least ten years, and probably longer.

But I liked the Christian Dior perfumes a lot, and for years, I tended to have at least one bottle of J’Adore in the drawer. I still have a few bottles of it, at least one opened, in Ireland. I need to see about moving perfume to Luxembourg.

I brought one bottle of perfume with me to Luxembourg, and that was one of the Hermes ones, Un Jardin sur le Nil from the Garden series. It is a light, fresh perfume which I’ve tended to wear daily, and is one of the few perfumes I’ve tended to replace. It is, characteristically, very different to Poison, which I wore as a teenager, and I suppose if I am honest, more than a few people would suggest that Poison was not exactly suitable for a 16 year old. I’m inclined not to argue with younger me – we should wear what makes us feel good in our skin and Poison certainly did that for me for a long time.

I’ve run out of Un Jardin sur le Nil for a second time and when I went to buy a replacement, it somehow didn’t happen. Instead, I bought a bottle of Un Jardin Apres le Mousson. Owing to some confusion in my perfume drawer (I blame the house move and the lack of fixed habits even yet) I actually managed to buy two bottles of it across a few different trips to the shop in question. It could be a while before Un Jardin sur le Nil makes it back in. Hermes market both these perfumes to both men and women, although in my local perfume store, I find them in the women’s section. Your mileage may vary. I like the idea of them not being fixed as directed towards women or men. But I do also think they are quite light, and fairly different to what I traditionally associate with men. I don’t have much experience in buying men perfume.

One of the things about buying perfume in foreign countries (assuming the base is Ireland) is that in many ways, it is much more enjoyable.

One of the things which broke my heart about Ireland for the 18 years that I lived there as an adult was the lack of a branch of Sephora. Buying perfume online is not the same experience. It’s fine and dandy to be able to order all this stuff online but it truly is one of those things that is much more than pressing a button on a computer. There is no way of knowing what a perfume smells like without smelling it and the internet cannot do that. You cannot serendipitously find a new perfume in an online store.

We have a few branches of Sephora in Luxembourg and although I have tried to buy stuff in there, it doesn’t happen for me.  There is competition from what I think is a local chain – Paris 8 – and also from one of the big Belgian chains – Ici Paris XL. They bought out the small perfume shop where I used to spend quite a bit of money when I was living in Brussels. All that time, I tended to still prefer Sephora if I was in Paris though.

Now, I mostly buy in Paris 8. There isn’t really a chain like these things in Ireland. There is a shop called The Perfume Shop which, like a lot of stores in Ireland, is a UK chain. But they were small, and you couldn’t really browse. The department stores tended to be vendor specific – there wasn’t really a wall of perfume – you had to tour the different brands. When I think of it like that, this probably contributed to the fact that I wasn’t buying perfume in Ireland much and why I wasn’t wearing it. It wasn’t really the same pleasure.

Anyway, the thing with buying perfume is they give you samples. Samples are what introduced me to most of the perfume I wear. Basically, I spend an almighty fortune on some perfume, they give me a “free” sample and a week later, here we are looking for more perfume. Or three months later if I bought the perfume in France and lived in Ireland and had to wait until I went back to get a bottle. Hermes were a nuisance for this. I bought bottles of Eau de Merveilles (they have several items in that range) and look here is a sample of Un Jardin sur le Nil and goddamnit, they didn’t have it in Brown Thomas, and when they did get it, it was in 100ml bottles.

I don’t buy bottles of perfume bigger than 50ml, and if I can manage 30ml, so much the better. Sure, you get more perfume per euro the bigger a bottle you buy but then, I used to have about 25 bottles of perfume on the go at a given time. And I’ve had to clear out perfume which has turned. It’s expensive to be tossing. My advice: unless you will only ever wear one or two different perfumes, do not buy 100ml bottles.

I had more or less forgotten this sample thing because the amount of perfume I had, and the frequency which which I had bought it had more or less fallen off a cliff. However, because I ran out of the one solitary bottle I brought from Ireland, and also, needed skin care, I was lately shopping. The net result is 4 new bottles of perfume not including the one I actually went to get but still have not managed to buy because I’ve been distracted – and suddenly, the memory of the beauty of perfume.

I feel great when I wear perfume. I’d forgotten how great me wearing perfume felt. It comes in gorgeous packaging. In a lot of ways, it can be a journey. Some older friends, some new acquaintances. Some new loves. If you were to data analyse my purchases over the years, two brands stand out as suppliers to my perfume habit – Christian Dior, for Poison, J’Adore, and assorted different versions of Addict. In the end, Addict went the way of Poison, and Addict 2 which wasn’t universally available went the way of J’Adore.  – and Givenchy. At various points, I was wearing three to four different Givenchy perfume products, namely Hot Couture, Very Irresistible, Organza and possibly one or two others which I cannot now remember.

A couple of others stood out as being regular features – for me, it was unusual to be without a bottle of L’Eau d’Issey and indeed, I’m fairly sure there is a bottle of that in Ireland at the moment, and I’m almost certain it’s unopened too. And of course, recently, Hermes have been doing well out of me.

Now, there are two bottles of Hermes on my shelf, along with one Givenchy, and one Sisley. The Givenchy is one of the newer ones – one of the Dahlia Divins, and I picked that up randomly in a shop. I was so out of touch I just did not know it existed and there was a time I could identify every single Givenchy perfume on the market. The Sisley is notable for me because it is the first time in about 5 years I bought a bottle of perfume on the back of a sample – on this occasion, Eau Tropicale. The two Hermes are Un Jardin Apres le Mousson and Eau de Merveilles Bleu.

What is striking for me about this is I had forgotten how beautifully designed perfume bottles are. Part of this, I suppose, is because in Dublin, I kept perfume in a drawer in the dark to protect it from the sun in the small rooms I tended to inhabit. And because I wasn’t often in perfume shops where these things were on display. They truly are things of beauty.

I wear perfume daily again. If I’m absolutely honest, I don’t wear it to make myself feel great – but I am more likely to wear it if I am feeling great already. I think that knowledge of myself should have a lot of meaning the next time I somehow stop wearing it.

I’m not sure I can go back to owning 20 bottles of perfume although as my relationship with fountain pen ink can show, it is awfully easy to do so. But I am back in a zone where I feel like having the choice. In that context, it may be that I wind up not buying a replacement Jardin sur le Nil for quite a while yet. I’m too busy spreading my love rather than playing for easy predictability.

 

Sunpool

According to my phone the outside temperature is about 17 degrees Celsius. I’m from Ireland. We don’t usually expect this kind of thing until around July, and to earn it, we need to have suffered a lot of rain.

I tend to like the sun in the Spring. It’s low enough in the sky to create sunpools in a bedroom. You know, where the sun shines through making a lovely nice warm pool of heat and light to curl up in reading a book. Or a magazine. Well they are sweltering when the outside temperature is 17 degrees. I have the windows open today. Sunburn is a serious risk. It is March. I have no suncream. Yet.

Boy is that going to change soon.

On washing machines…

It is a beautiful sunny day here in Luxembourg. I’m sitting here with a cup of tea, listening to the dulcet tones of Air via my computer and the somewhat less sweeter tones of the washing machine.

I love the washing machine. I love it like I love my bed, my sofa and the three sets of bookshelves that arrived yesterday. But I especially love the washing machine.

Mostly I love it because I own it, but also, because it works properly.

It works properly, because it’s pretty much brand new. I bought it two months ago. I own it.

I don’t want to go on at length about it but I have never actually owned a washing machine before. I have had washing machines in my rented houses in Dublin. Some of them have been good, some of them have been bad, one or two of them have been downright awful and not much newer than a 1950s roller washer thing.

This one was bought in the sale, with about 25% knocked off. It was a brand I recognised (generally good), and more importantly, it is a doddle to use. I think it’s got a timer on it but that doesn’t really bother me because otherwise, I put stuff into it, I press the button, and it then tells me how long the wash is going to take. It even has a 15 minute wash for those quick needs.

I haven’t tried that yet.

The thing is, when I pointed out to people that in Luxembourg, it was going to be a tall order to get an apartment (it is) and what’s more, I’d need to furnish it, I was greeted with horror. Wasn’t that going to cost money? Well yes. But you know what. I own the washing machine and it works and I have the instruction book.

I once lived in a house with a washing machine that was so old, the instruction manual was not on the internet. In this day and age, that’s fairly Jurassic.

I don’t mind the whole furnishing thing. Here’s why. I chose the mattress. It’s comfortable and I can sleep on it. I chose the washing machine. It washes my clothes properly and quickly. I wonder sometimes if Irish people would not be better off learning to deal with unfurnished accommodation and getting more autonomy over their furniture. I mean, I’ve been in some houses with fairly desperate furniture options and requests to remove it have been met with flat refusals. Take or leave the house.

In the meantime, the light coloured wash currently decorating the soundscape of my Sunday afternoon will be done in 30 minutes. It’s wonderful.

Urban Sketching in Luxembourg – MUDAM

One of the things which happens when you move somewhere is that you have to build a new social circle. I have plenty of hobbies so I have options on this front. The first Sunday in January I joined the Luxembourg urban sketchers who were going to the Museum of Modern Art, otherwise known as MUDAM.

Given how cold it was, it was useful to be inside.

I am not really the biggest fan of modern art – it doesn’t speak much to me, so I suppose it’s not surprising that when push came to shove, I found myself sketching a piece of an older building instead.

However, people took many different views.

This is mine:

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And this is the group shot:

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That being said, while the actual exhibition in the MUDAM left me a bit cold, the building it is in is actually stunning. The following Sunday I went to the exhibits in the Villa Vauban which is, I suppose, a great deal more traditional. I much preferred it. This probably says something about me.

Piano Geekery

My main lot of furniture arrived yesterday, which means I have a desk, a few chairs, a sofa, and a table and a wardrobe. The shelves for the books I don’t have are due to arrive sometime in the next two or three weeks which left only one item on the shopping list and that was a piano.

To be honest, a piano has always been on my shopping list; namely a grand piano and if I am honest, for a long time, the piano in question was an 1882 which you can still, as of today, January 2017, see on the Pianos Plus website. Believe me, it’s a beautiful piano to play but I’ve never had a space worthy of that piano. It’s a big piano. It has a price tag to match. Another dealer also had a really nice 1970s Kawai which I liked as well.

However, I’ve realised that I am now 44 years old and while it could be another 10 years before I get a lovely grand piano, in the meantime, I’m going to need something else to play. I have the space for a piano now and I live in Luxembourg (sorry Pianos Plus). In researching piano dealers here, I discovered that they rented pianos. Not only did they rent pianos, they rented digital pianos, a service which is hard to find in Ireland. So I tracked down two piano dealers which were close to bus stops, and I went to visit the first of them today. Well it was joyful.

I’ve chosen a piano to hire – it is a Roland digital, and it will fit in my living room. I also played a lot of grand pianos. I played a Bechstein which, like the 1882 beauty, tugged many heart strings. Strictly speaking, I have the space for this one. On the other hand, I have neighbours upstairs. Hence digital piano. Sadface. I also played a Steinway and while I tend to find them a bit sparkly bright, this was a really nice one, a bargain at more than a year’s salary; and then I played a piano which I had never seen before. I played a Schultz. I’ve since learned that the pianos are designed in Germany and built elsewhere. I’m told this one was built in China. It was a gorgeous piano to play. I loved it.

Some day, I will own my own grand piano. It may be a Bechstein, or it may be a Schultz. Or it may be a Pleyel or a Kawai. I don’t know. But I realised today, playing that Bechstein, and that Schultz, and also, having a conversation with the sales staff in Kleber, that there’s an element of destiny around these things and that when the moment presents itself, so too will the piano. In the meantime, Kleber are happy for me to explore what they have got and that makes me happy.

Bonus point: cutest thing all day was a daddy explaining to his two small children how it was that a piano made noise.

Saturdays on the buses

Since I have moved to Luxembourg, every Saturday, the city bus service has been free. As in gratis. As in not charged for. I have not yet worked out whether this is a regular thing, or whether it was just for Christmas and the sales

Anyway.

Even if it is not, they have an interesting pricing set up around here. A short term ticket will cost you 2E and a long term ticket will cost you 4E. And they are valid across the entire Luxembourg public network. Buses and trains. The difference is the 2E ticket is valid for 2 hours. The other ticket is valid until 4am tomorrow morning.

A monthly card for the city of Luxembourg will cost you 25E unless you are with a really big employer in which case you may get it free. A monthly card for the entirety of Luxembourg will set you back 50E. You can by annual versions of these passes which I think charge 9 months rather than 12.

The population of Luxembourg is about 550,000. The population of the city is around 100,000. It has 31 local bus routes and another twenty or so of the national network can pick up and drop off within the city area.

What am I driving at here? Why should it matter? Well one of the news stories from Ireland which penetrated my consciousness lately is the Bus Eireann issue. I happened to get a number 51 bus from Cork to Charleville at Christmas. It was packed. The line was on the list of lines threatened with closure lately.

I lived in Dublin for 17 years and to be honest, one of the things which increasingly drove me up the wall was trying to navigate the city. It was expensive, journey times were wildly unpredictable; enthusiasts seemed to think all I needed to know was what time a bus might arrive to me. I wanted and needed to know what time my bus would get to where I was going.

Paris has lately had a few days on which public transport has been free, mainly to try and get people to leave their cars at home and try and keep pollution levels down.

Luxembourg is not a big city. The country is not without its moments of “seriously, you are kidding me. People smoke that much?”. But it seems to me they have an objective of enabling people to move around by public transport. To that end, the buses are seriously prioritised over cars, they are comprehensive, they are regular and generally reliable. They have a pricing system which feeds into enabling people to travel by bus and making it economic for them to do so. I spent 25E a week on bus fares in Dublin and it completely wrecked my head.

In contrast, it seems to me like Ireland isn’t. Public transport is underfunded. There isn’t a coherent supply side structure and i terms of interoperation of fares, it took years and it still isn’t there perfectly. In Dublin, at least, there tend to be ongoing turf battles between bus operators demanding access to the Dublin Bus route network. The building of the tramlines has tended to feature considerations of Yerrah we don’t really need undergrounds anyway. Metro North is still lost in transit. And now this Bus Eireann saga. If I had to make any conclusion from all this, the State, or its government are not interested in the environmental ramifications of getting private cars off the road, not interested in making the lives of people living in the bigger cities better. Owen Keegan is pouring his efforts in Dublin into bike lanes, probably because he doesn’t get to make the decisions about public transport. Sure the Luas will carry 13 million passengers but the re-routes of buses to allow for bike lanes around Trinity College will discommode a similar number of bus users who re already held up trying to get across O’Connell Bridge most days.

At no point is someone going to decide “okay, buses on Saturday will be free because long term it is better that we…”

At this point someone is going to point out that Luxembourg is smaller than…and I know. It’s smaller than County Cork. But

Last time I got a bus in Cork, that Number 51 I mentioned up above, it cost me 12E one way. A similar journey in Luxembourg would have cost me 2E. IF someone, anyone, had vision in Ireland, they would look at applying the Luxembourg model on a county level. Maybe start funding public transport more effectively. That there is the problem. We do as little as we can get away. I know there is only so much money in the pot but seriously, Luxembourg is smaller in population than Ireland is. Maybe a regional model in transport might help. Give Dublin City Council some control over public transport Take regional bus services away from central government. Have a vision for making life easier to organise around public transport and allow our cities to breathe better. Stop  using sticks and start using carrots.

Cannot see it happening.

7 weeks’ later

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I have been in Luxembourg just shy of two months now, and if you were to ask me what was the thing which caught my attention, I would have to say it was the number of people who smoke. It is quite remarkable.

The photo above was taken some evening I was getting a bus to the shopping centre, rather than doing what any sane person would, which is go home and curl up next to the radiator. It has been cold here in Luxembourg – we had an orange weather alert warning us that temperatures were due to slip down to -10 last night. We have not had much snow since the beginning of January though and what remnants that are left lying around have just never quite got around to melting. You see them in the parks and on the the banks on the approach to the city from Remich. I was in Remich the other day.

On Friday afternoon, I got the bus to art heaven superstore, Boesner. It is just over the border from Luxembourg but not exactly straightforward to reach by public transport. It is, however, one of the best art stores I have been in. It is almost close to Schleiper. I bought a load of stuff I didn’t need but really really wanted which is typical really. It’s like going to IKEA.

From there, I got the bus to Nennig which is the border town on the German side of the Moselle river. It was pretty much flattened during the war, apparently. Nennig is on one side of the river and literally on the otherside, is Remich. I walked across the border several times, and thought malevolent thoughts about Brexit and the saps who want to destroy the European Union. I got my bus back to Luxembourg city from the customs checkpoint that looked like well it was hardly opened from one end of the year to the other. Along the Moselle, under the bridge, was the biggest conflab of swans I have ever seen. It was a stunning afternoon, with a beautiful warm looking sunset. And it was warm. It was 2 whole degrees above city. In the context of a week where the temperatures never got above 0 and where my trip to work was in -7 degrees, 2 degrees was tropical.

Yesterday then was more retail therapy. I needed new trainers, unusually, two new pairs, one for mucking around in, and one for actually running in. I also wanted some basic swimming gear. Having failed to find anything remotely resembling a decent sports shop (I don’t count Footlocker as such) and being vaguely aware that there was a Decathlon or some such out in one of the retail parks (the one that otherwise has a million car dealerships) I wanted to go out. It transpired that it was an Intersport and more to the point, there didn’t seem to be any swimming gear on its website. Knowing Intersport from elsewhere, I found this hard to believe so I wandered out on a bus and had a bit of a look around.

We don’t have ANY sports shops in Ireland like this. This had pretty much everything, and at the moment, it had loads and loads and loads of ski gear with 30% off. I went and found the watersports section and was overwhelmed by the range of swim wear available. My swimming gear is still in Ireland so I have capitulated and decided to start over again. There was a spectacular array of goggles to be chosen from. Somewhat less overwhelming on the noseclip front (Ireland is definitely better on that front for some reason) (do we prefer to make our style statements with nose clips than with swimwear). It’s just occurred to me that I somehow got distracted from buying a pull buoy. That will be changing.

As it happens, I work about a 10 minute walk from the Coque sports centre which has 2 fifty metre polls and a 25 metre pool. Next weekend it has a major swimming meet where apparently I will be able to see Ian Thorpe swim. I don’t really have any excuse facilities wise; it’s just getting my act together to get organised to start swimming again.

In addition to the swimming gear, and the ski gear, and the mountain climbing gear, and the hiking gear, and the many types of shoes and the football section and racket sports section, it had a ballet section which sells Repetto dance shoes (although I did not see any pointe shoes there, sadly). This place was a palace of supplies to enable you to be active. I got a beautiful pair of Asics trail running shoes, despite currently not doing any running plus a pair of Nike tennis shoes to knock about it. Oh and it sold many sleds.

I’ve been in a few sports superstores in my life and always been stunned by how much better they were than Irish sports stores, but this took my breath way. Witness the wall of shoes where shoes were labelled according to what sport you used them for or whether they were fashion accessories. I was mesmerised.

In the meantime, I need to check out the pools sometime soon and get a membership card so I can perhaps go before work if I am up early enough.

In other news, having suffered so far 2 weeks on only having a kitchen and a bed in terms of furniture, the rest of my furniture is due to turn up next week. I am looking forward to that. This week also I plan to join a painting club. I need to check out the knitting club as well. I like Luxembourg so far.

Walking around a winter wonderland

It snowed in Luxembourg this morning.

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It was a rather lovely, peaceful snowy scene in the park near my apartment this morning so I took a walk around it before going in search of furniture. I wandered over to the lift down to Pfaffenthal but that was closed for some reason. I don’t know why.

This is what you could see from the Ville Haute near the lift anyway so you got the view even if you couldn’t get into the viewing platform.

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The bridge is called the Charlotte or the Red Bridge. I think they like the colour idea because the new bridge in the city centre is called the Blue Bridge. It was built because the main bridge, called the Adolphe Bridge, is in need of serious repair so it had to be closed. Imagine, if you will, closing O’Connell Bridge and building a temporary replacement almost right next to it. That’s what the Luxembourgers appeared to do.

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The glassy thing on the left is the elevator.

Anyway, flickr is not cooperating with me right now so I might add other photographs later.