currently crushing on… all things lavender

Lavender bouquets

It is no secret that I love lavender — whether it’s in the garden or in a floral arrangement or in my food and drink. Lavender simply works everywhere!

So somehow, it’s appropriate that I should be living in the Northwest, site of “North America’s lavender capital”. The Olympic peninsula of Washington state, and more particularly the little city of Sequim (pronounced “Skwim”), is famous for its production of lavender. So famous that each year, during the third weekend of July, a three-day festival celebrating “all things lavender” is organized.

Lavender

Historically, growing lavender in this region once dominated by dairy farms was not a natural choice, but it’s now a major agribusiness. The climate around Sequim was a determining factor. It is said to be similar to the one of the Provence region in France and it supposedly gets as little rain as Los Angeles. The Olympic Mountains act as a wall and protect the northeastern Olympic Peninsula from the bulk of the rain that moves into the Pacific Northwest. They call it the rain shadow. Let me express my doubts about that. The first time I visited Sequim, it was pouring. The second time, it was only drizzling. This year the expectations are high: I want to finally see Sequim’s sunny side. The weather has been gorgeous in Seattle, and with any luck it’s the same in Sequim.

Provence

So today, I’ll be harvesting fresh lavender in the farms and will be on a lavender high for the rest of the weekend. I can already smell the intoxicating perfume of fresh lavender.

Lavender in a basket

The Sequim region during the festival weekend would be a perfect getaway if it weren’t for the crowd. Thousands of people are expected during the festival. My advice: If you’re not interested in the festival activities but just in the market for some fresh lavender, come back the next weekend. Many farms welcome visitors and some even offer bed & breakfast accommodations.

Have a great weekend!

Bee

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Currently crushing on… liberté!

eiffel tower

Fireworks in Paris – Photo by Flickr user oleg.ski

It’s that time of the year when streets in France turn into blue, white and red, the champagne flows, military forces parade on the Champs Élysées, the café waiters race with their loaded trays,  and people go dancing at firemen’s balls before watching the fireworks. And flags are on full display. It is as patriotic as France can get.  Le 14 juillet, also known anywhere in the Anglo-Saxon world as Bastille Day, is for sure the ultimate French celebration.

Growing up, I never really cared about it. A holiday in the middle of my two-month summer vacation did not make much of a difference. But now that I’m far from my country, thinking about it makes me sort of nostalgic and longing for some French spirit.

tarte aux pommes

A French classic: the tarte aux pommes (apple tart)

If you want to indulge in French lifestyle and catch a glimpse of this holiday, there is a good chance that something is organized not far from where you live. Major cities will have some kind of event. In Seattle, there will be a Bastille Bash in Madison Valley, a day early, on the 13th, and a pétanque tournament on the 14th. Personally, since I’m always looking for an excuse for a soirée, I’ll be throwing a “down with tyranny party”, a commemoration of both the 4th and the 14th of July, to celebrate the glorious liberation of our respective homelands from oppressive and unjust rule. If there is one thing that France and the United States have in common, it’s their revolutionary spirit!

If you feel like celebrating too, here are some ideas:

We’ll be drinking the Liberté cocktail, a mixture of gin and lillet.

There is no specific food tradition associated with the 14 juillet, but here are 10 French classic recipes that will take you to Paris.

A video of the military procession — it is quite long…

No good 14 juillet without playing pétanque.

How to celebrate Bastille Day in Paris.

blue-white-red flowers

Blue, white, red flowers for Bastille Day

Have a great weekend and Vive la France!

Bee

currently crushing on…

cintli

We hope you had an explosive 4th of July and that the weekend is looking good. And because it’s been a while since we last shared what makes us happy, here is a quick list of what we are currently crushing on:

Cintli: the latest addition to Seattle’s café scene, but it has a Latino theme and you can buy adorable Mexican jewels and trinkets. Try their Mayan mocha made with spicy chocolate or their horchata latte.

Do you say pop or soda? A great infographic shows American’s language peculiarities.  Apparently in the South, when people ask for a coke, you have to ask which kind because coke means soda… So confusing, but how fascinating!

Edible flowers in Em’s P-patch (that’s Seattle’s term for a community garden). Now we want to play with this book.

Because you might have some leftovers from yesterday’s grilling, here are 5 ways to use corn on the cob.

movie that looks cute for a date (versus this movie, which we won’t bother watching, but the book sounds great).

oysters

The perfect continuation of that date night: a plate of fresh oysters at Taylor Shellfish Farms.

Finally, here’s a sneak peek at Monday’s post. We all scream for ice cream!

ice cream

Have a lovely sunny weekend!

Bee & Em.

currently crushing on… alt-j at the neptune

Sometimes you hear music that makes your heart stop and beat stronger, all at once. An Awesome Wave, the debut album from the British quartet Alt-J, will confuse and lose you before finally pulling you in and holding you captive.

Alt-J

Alt-J, Photo from Flickr user n8ofthemill.

Winners of the prestigious Mercury Award — which has also honored PJ Harvey, the XX and Arctic Monkeys — they’ve been playing on repeat in my iPod for months. I had missed them last December when they were at the Crocodile, but they’re back this Saturday at the Neptune, and I made sure to book tickets months ago.

From the origin of their name to the sound of their music, nothing is simple with Alt-J. Have you ever tried to press “Alt” and “J” on the keyboard of a Mac? It’s the shortcut for ∆, the band’s initial name. Judging it too complicated for their audience — should it be pronounced triangle? Delta? — they changed their name to the computer shortcut. But the symbol has a deeper meaning for the band, as the guitarist/bassist Gwil Sainsbury explains: “In mathematical equations it’s used to show change.”

Change is the key approach to their music, and every one of their songs is like a series of equations with multiple variables. Be ready to embark on an unexpected trip, at odds with all kind of logic. To tell the truth, I felt very disoriented after the first listening. The band seems to take pleasure in composing counterintuitive songs, breaking rhythms when the alternative would sound too natural, and covering multiple musical genres — from indie rock to trip-hop, folk and dubstep. From the beautiful a capella “First Interlude” (aka, “Ripe and Ruin”), to the big earworms of “Breezeblocks” and “Fitzpleasure”, so much is going on that you never know what’s coming next or how their songs will evolve. But far from being overwhelming, it is mesmerizing and transcendent.

These complex melodies are matched by clever and iconographic lyrics which draw from multiple literary and movie influences, whether it’s in transforming the children’s book Where The Wild Things Are into a “love song turned murder ballad” (“Breezeblocks”), or referencing Luc Besson’s Léon (“Mathilda”) and Tralala, the prostitute from Hubert Selby Jr.’s Last Exit To Brooklyn (“Fitzpleasure”). I was personally touched by their take on the love story between the photographers Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, finally reunited after death when the former hit a landmine during the First Indochina War (“Taro”).

Rarely has an album had such a fitting name, and once you give it a chance, you won’t be able to stop surfing that awesome wave!

Neptune

Neptune Theater, photo from Flickr user aturkus.

The other reason why I’m excited about this concert is that it will take place at the Neptune, one of Seattle’s coolest concert halls. This former movie theater in the heart of the University District dates back from the early 1920s. It was restored in 2011 and turned into a multi-use facility by the non-profit Seattle Theater Group, keeping this historic landmark alive and vibrant. Although it’s not small, it feels intimate, allowing a great connection between the performer and the audience.

If you want to give Alt-J a chance to change your life, here is a link to a private concert organized by KEXP last September. It’s 42 minutes of pure awesomeness.

We’ll be back next week with some zesty surprises (hint, hint). In the meantime, have a great weekend!

Bee.

currently crushing on… the french festival

A new take on the beret. Photo by Chris Blakeley.

A new take on the beret. Photo by Chris Blakeley.

Before the St. Patrick’s Day hangover wears off, let’s have a look at another cultural-slash-boozy (I hope) fest that will be celebrated at the Seattle Center on Sunday: the French Fest, designed as a celebration of French-speaking cultures.

For background, you should know that we French people are very proud of our language (among many other typically French things), and in order to remind everybody of its greatness (and fight evil English), we established the International Francophonie Day, celebrated every year on March 20. Around the world, events are organized to showcase the importance, dynamism and vitality of the French language. This celebration of French-speaking culture is a perfect opportunity to learn about this diverse community which gathers more than 890 million people over the five continents from Paris to Tahiti, via Dakar and… Seattle.

But enough facts and figures. What can you expect from this event? Honestly, I’m not sure. It’s the first time that it’s being organized. To date, we’ve had one yearly French celebration, the Bastille Day Festival sponsored by the French American Chamber of Commerce and the French Consulate. Apparently, French Education Northwest decided to transition away from it to create a more inclusive event.

I only attended the Bastille Day Festival once, last summer, and it was fine. Some of the bands were quite good, and the wine was definitely not bad, but there was clearly a lack of good food options, which is ironic considering France’s reputation in that field. Also, it was sort of very cliché — I’m looking at you, the colleague of Rick Steves whose condescending assertion that “French people aren’t as arrogant as they look” must have offended all the real French people around! — but so is St. Patrick’s, and I guess that’s what is generally appealing.

As it is supposed to be a celebration of the diversity of the French-speaking culture, you should be ready for less France-French and more global-French, from Tahitian dances to Cajun music, from the typical Parisian ham sandwich (jambon-beurre) and Belgian moules frites to Louisiana po’boys. There is no mention of a wine-tasting (-drinking!) area. I understand that this is supposed to be a “family-friendly event” with all sorts of fun activities and games for children, but who will be in charge of those children? The parents, who after an afternoon of “all sorts of fun activities” will only have one desire: to forget everything with a good glass of French wine. Just say’n…

moules_frites

Moules frites. Photo by Flickr user kiwifraiz.

And if you’re learning French, try to take the dictée, a dictation exercise that’s struck fear into the hearts of millions of French students over the years (including me).

Join the Francophone and Francophile community on March 24, 2013, from 11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. at Seattle Center’s Armory/Center House. More information available at www.fenpnw.org.

À très bientôt!

Bee

a conversation with… gabriel campanario

Olympics_Gabi_Campanario

Olympics, Gabi Campanario

There was a time, before photography, when sketching was the main way to illustrate news. Although technologies have evolved, there is something charming and slightly nostalgic about looking at a sketch and marking a pause when reading an article. A je-ne-sais-quoi that transports you to a very personal take on reality. If you’re a reader of The Seattle Times, you might be familiar with Gabriel Campanario, a visual journalist also known as the Seattle Sketcher, who captures the cityscape with his ink and watercolors.

Gabriel Campanario

The Seattle Sketcher is probably my favorite column in the Seattle Times (maybe equaled only by Nancy Leson’s accounts of her culinary escapades). The very first thing I bought (at a charity auction) when I moved in Seattle was one of Gabriel’s sketches, a representation of the Blaine Stairs on a rainy day, and I’m happy to think that wherever I go in the future, this sketch will always have a special place in my personal story, representing this chapter of my life as well as my connection to Seattle.

Blaine Stairway, Gabriel Campanario

Blaine Stairway, Gabriel Campanario

Em and I met Gabriel on a rainy and cold day (typical March) in the middle of Seattle’s very first P-Patch, the Picardo Farm in the Ravenna neighborhood. He was closing up his watercolors just as we were arriving. Gabriel explained that the current weather conditions made it difficult to continue working. This answered a question that was on our minds: No, he is not impervious to Seattle’s constant drizzle, and neither is his work. The weather challenges him and his craft.

Gabriel has always drawn, ever since he was a child in Spain: As people took siestas, he would reach for his sketchbook. Even though he became a globe trotting journalist, he never left his pencils very far, using them to connect to his environment. When he moved to Seattle for a position at the Times in 2006, he started a blog to share his sketches online. In 2009, as the paper was trying to figure out ways to emphasize their content, Gabi pitched the idea of a drawn feature. A natural collaboration ensued between a city paper and a city lover. Gabriel became the storyteller of the “urban forest”, as he likes to call Seattle, offering his personal and vibrant vision of the city and meeting its ”unsung heroes” to immortalize the uniqueness of our everyday lives. Through his drawings he began to capture “what makes Seattle tick” and thus the concept of “urban sketching” was born.

You are here, Gabriel Campanario

From there, he started a global movement, finding artists sharing the same interest. After one year, his Flickr group numbered 300 people, the genesis of a strong community of urban sketchers from all over the world. Fearing that the movement would wither, a blog and a non-profit were created to tell their story along the pictures and foster the art of on-site drawing of urban scenes, notably through workshops and seminars. The 1st urban sketching symposium was in Portland, Oregon in 2010. This year is the 4th annual symposium and it will be held in Gabi’s old stomping grounds, Barcelona. If you’re interested in the local meet ups, the Seattle Urban Sketchers meet every 3rd Sunday of each month.

Sketch

Of course, every artist has a muse. For Gabriel, it’s the urban jungle. But a city like Seattle is big. There is so much to sketch. How does one decide where to dedicate time? It’s clear that Gabriel is curious by nature and compelled to tell the story of the city and its people. But he acknowledges that some of his ideas are suggested by readers who highlight interesting people and places. “It’s an organic process,” he said. Gabi often finds inspiration from reading neighborhood blogs. (As local bloggers, we found this very encouraging.)

We could not resist asking about his favorite places in Seattle to sketch, and although he admitted it was difficult to choose – ”The topography is fantastic. Every neighborhood has its own vibe,” he said – he remembered being struck by the beauty and serenity of the Seattle skyline from a rowboat on Lake Union, early in the morning. Bridges and waterfronts are particularly inspirational but he insisted that it’s equally important to sketch places that may not be that beautiful (hello viaduct!) to stay aware and connected to the city.

sketch

He looked surprised when we asked him about his style. Marking a pause, as if thinking about it, he finally answered, “I’m impatient. That’s why I draw fast, working around simple and spontaneous lines.” The drawing is not meant to be displayed on a wall; it’s a snapshot of a moment, perfect in its imperfections. Sometimes the challenge is, how much can you tell with the minimum amount of lines?

Gabriel recently compiled works from his fellow urban sketchers into a book, The Art of Urban Sketching: Drawing On Location Around the World. With about 500 illustrations from over 100 worldwide artists, this book is a true treasure and a real inspiration for those who want to draw or just “see the world one drawing at a time.” I bought it few months ago and particularly appreciated the discussions over techniques and styles as well as the drawing instructions and tips (I’m a longtime wannabe sketcher). Be ready to be inspired and transported to new places, or just to rediscover them with fresh eyes — and, maybe, you will feel like trying your hand at sketching. As the book says: “No extravagant tools or formal artistic training is needed to draw on location. Let your hand interpret what your eyes see, as you explore your city, making marks on paper.”

Where are my sketchbook and watercolors? I suddenly feel inspired…

Bee