Linden Tree

July 15, 2016


This summer has been a strange one so far – disappointments and unexpected turns have been jumping over celebrations and good moments. Bad news and joyous vibes have been competing for the Olympic title of my life... Due to an unexpected turn of events, our plans for traveling to Europe are being put on hold for an undefined period of time. The unknown is what has been occupying these summer months... and frankly, it has all been mind-numbing. I had felt the discomfort of the unknown many times before, but I thought I had worked really hard to eliminate it and to stay open to uncertainty. Obviously, not hard enough. Somehow, it has hung over me and darkened my thoughts. My mental space has been stocked with worries, yet hopes and prayers for the universe to guide me find wisdom and insights. I've known deep down within me that everything will resolve the way it is supposed to, but the wait! The wait is what has been draining my energy, my focus and my otherwise optimistic, patient self. I wanted for time to hurry and to go fast and yet, when I celebrated my precious son's 18th birthday, I wished for time to stop and wait and go slow...
I was brimming with all that confusion and fragility, when in one moment, it just clicked. A great hardship is never desirable, but that doesn't mean that we can't make use of it; it can provide an extraordinary lesson capable of making us aware of the shallowness of our daily concerns, of the overwhelming pressure of the crazy world we are living in, and above all, of what truly matters in our human progression towards individual inner freedom. At this moment, I promised myself to manage my attention, not my time. To trust the path, to learn from it and to put my faith in action as I tune into what makes me happy, what completely absorbs me and puts me back in my creative centre – photography and writing.
Next, I was browsed in a favorite bookshop of mine, the place of comfort and escape in need of a lift. A little orange book quietly caught my attention. I always trust my instincts when it comes to picking books. As I began to flip through the pages, I read:
  "Welcome
   You have now become an official member of the Wander Society. 
...Society wants us to live a planned existence, following paths that have been traveled by others. Tried and true. The known, the expected, the controlled, the safe.
   The path of the wanderer is not this!
  The path of the wanderer is an experiment with the unknown. To be idle, to play, to daydream. 
...Wandering is not about a specific place or destination, getting from one place to another, or movement as a means to an end.
   Instead, it's about letting the soul and mind roam.
...The wanderer can observe, be present, pay attention, and be open to the unknown – all while remaining still. Entering into a wandering mindset involves partaking in the wandering rituals, turning off technology, breathing deeply, using the senses, tuning in.
...Life is an experiment. To wander is to seek the unexpected.
   Does the act of doing something without purpose challenge you a little?
   Good."
A wave of excitement went through my body. A current of happiness rushed from my heart. I knew, the universe conspired to help me go through the suffering of my mind and be myself again. All I needed to do was to be aware that this precious life will not last forever and that it is essential to make the best possible use of it. I needed one more time to sincerely examine what counts in life for me and simplify my activities, my inner voice and my expectations. 
I read the book in a day and found myself on my daily walk (wandering) with Charlie, this time unplanned, letting him lead me.
Re-charged with curiosity. Exhaling deeply. With ready eyes. Grateful to feel alive.
I made an amazing discovery that day – the streets were blanketed with blooming linden trees and the world was smelling like one. I came home with arms full of branches. I picked the flowers and made myself a tea. I baked a lemon cake glazed with the tea. The aroma filled the air around me. With every sip of the soothing infusion, I felt the presence of my grandma serving me the tea every time I had a fever as a child. I remember her telling me about the magical effect this flower has on healing our bodies. In almost every major hospital in Europe, there were long lines leading to the entrance doors, planted to supply the hospital with linen flowers for infusion that was given to sick patients and soldiers waiting for medical care. I realized, once again, that everything in life is a source of information, that everything in the natural world can be healing, once you stop taking it for granted and let it reveal its magic to you. The only honest way for me to survive this strange summer is to do what my soul thrives on, to participate with my mind in the direct experience of everyday life and to look at the ordinary in a whole new light. I have everything I need "to create a bond with the unknown wilderness I am about to enter into even though it might scare me a little."
I have become a wanderer.
I have arrived.

    The Wanderers are everywhere.




Thank you, dear friends, for reading. I hope you are having a nice and simple summer. My heart is heavy with the world right now, but despite the unbearable pain, I refuse to be afraid. I still believe in the goodness of humanity and that people are fundamentally loving and good.

Prom Photo Session

June 27, 2016


They are young. They are beautiful, smart and funny. Their wings are ready to open. They are excited to fly to new heights, build a new nest, connect with new knowledge, embrace greater accountability, face new love... They are considered, ambitious, open, playful and inclusive. They are confident and full of energy. They do not consume extra effort on something they can achieve with a simple click; love the modern inventions that make life easier. They are contemporary and traditional at the same time. They appreciate their families and value the differences of opinions despite often being critical. They know their goals and try to reach them creatively. They make mistakes, but they aren't hampered as much when it comes to thinking why not to do things.
They are the leaders of tomorrow. 
That is how I see our children – the high school graduates – thanks to my son, his friends, his school, my friends, their children and their schools. And when a couple of weeks ago I was invited for a pre-prom photoshoot, I accepted the job with confidence and assurance that I could successfully convey in the photographs all I love about our young people and their world. And when I gave the photos to them, my only wish was that whatever they do next, I hope they never stop learning, growing, exploring and challenging themselves to be their best and that they never give up all their independent thoughts and their dreams and their passions. I hope no hate, difficulties and setbacks crush their wings and prevent them from taking the stand for the good of the whole. I believe in their courage to rise above the false sense (in adults) of superiority and entitlement as well as in their capability to "make for themselves, for their sake and for ours, extraordinary lives". 





You can see more photos from the session on http://www.sylviasimplelife.com
I finally decided to collect some of my photography work and create a portfolio of sorts. 
Here is a preview:








Thank you all for your continued support. I wish you a beautiful summer.



Pecan Pie – A Taste of the South

April 5, 2016




Pecan Pie is a uniquely American dessert and apparently a holiday menu without it is a sin, especially in the Southern States where the pie is a staple. Some claim that French immigrants to New Orleans created the pecan pie after the Native Americans introduced them to pecans. Who knows? One thing is for certain, the pecan trees are native to the South and fresh pecans as well as pecan pies, pecan pralines and various other pecan delights are widely popular in the region. As you might guess, I made a solid effort to try all these sweet handmade southern treats as we were passing through Louisiana on our road trip from Toronto to New Orleans this March. However, the most memorable experience to me in terms of classic southern desserts would be the slice of that freshly-baked nutty pie perfection I ate on the front porch of Oak Alley Plantation Restaurant after exploring the historic site that lined the banks of the Mississippi River. It also turned out that of all plantations that dot the landscape along Louisiana's famous River Road, one that stands out for its relationships to pecans is non other, but Oak Alley. One of the slaves at the plantation, the gifted, first name-only gardener from New Orleans, Antoine, was the first person to successfully create the first pecan variety with thin shell that could be cracked bare handed. Antoine's improved pecan was named 'centennial' as a honor for winning the Best Pecan Award at the Philadelphia Exposition in 1876. 
We came back home with tins full of Louisiana's favorite nut and books full of wonderful collections of great southern recipes. And I thought that Easter weekend would be the perfect time to bake this simple and delicious pie, this symbol of the Southern heritage, the one that is really loaded with nuts, has a little hint of Praline pecan liqueur and creates such an earthy taste in your mouth which as the author wrote "makes you close your eyes and wish you might live forever in the witness of that rich moment."



Southern Pecan Pie 

Ingredients: 

For the Crust:
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/4 cup ice cold water

Filling:
6 tbsp. (about 90 ml) unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup dark corn syrup
3 large eggs
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 cups chopped pecans (plus extras pecan halves to line the top)
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 or 2 tbsp. Pralin Pecan Liqueur or bourbon (optional)
1 tsp. vanilla extract


Directions:


To make the pie dough, combine in a large bowl flour, sugar, and salt. Rub in the butter using your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add enough cold water and stir with a spatula to mix to a firm dough. Use your hands to knead the dough together and pack it into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour. 

On a floured surface flatten dough ball with rolling pin. Roll out into a circle that is one inch larger than the pie dish. Place pie shell into dish, fold overhang edge of pie crust and crimp decoratively. Prick the bottom with a fork and refrigerate until solid. 

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place the pie dish on a cooking sheet and line with a sheet of oiled foil. Fill with pie weights or beans. Baked in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Carefully remove foil and beans and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Let cool a little before filling. 

Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

To make pie filling, place butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and salt in a saucepan and stir gently until melted. Remove from the heat and and stir in pecans, cider vinegar, vanilla, liqueur. Set the mixture aside to cool a little , about 5 minutes and then whisk in one egg at a time until combined. Pour into the pie shell and bake for 35-40 minutes. If needed, during the last 10 minutes of baking, cover the pie with foil to prevent the top from getting too hard. The pie is done when the crust browns and the centre is slightly firm to touch but still has some jiggle to it. 
Let cool before slicing and serve. 

(Recipe adapted from "At My Grandmother's Table Heartwarming Stories and Cherished Recipe from the South", a book by Faye Porter.) 


Do you like pecan pie?


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New Orleans and its Magic

March 30, 2016



Unassuming tiny funky room.. 
Old peeling walls, engraved with moments of yesterdays. Soft poetic light perforates the diamond cuts on the closed window shutters. Vintage fans move the stuffy air in spirals. Unmatching kitchen chairs, a Steinway upright piano and a set of drums are waiting patiently for the show to start. Instantly smitten by the atmosphere of noble decadence, I am standing in the middle of this dusty dark chamber full of humans, strolling my eyes along the painted portraits of musicians long gone. All we, jazz lovers I guess, are diving in anticipation after waiting an hour in line down St. Peter Street – few are aware of what will happen in a moment, the other few have only a slight idea of it.
And here they come! Welcomed by the roaring audience, six men of different ages wearing white shirts and black suits, holding instruments, waving and smiling, sit on the chairs in the most comfortable poses. The first words that come from the drummer Joe Lastie with the same raspy voice of Louis Armstrong let me know – they are HOME. I know I will be blown away. I know this is where I am supposed to be in this mythic city. It feels like a church and before I even take a breath, I hear myself singing along with my son, my man, the young boy beside me, the women in front of me, the elderly man standing up despite his lucky spot on the bench, all blending with the band  "Lord, Lord, Lord, You Sure Been Good To Me..."
I find myself in the scene of a movie, the one that I had watched as a child not really understanding what it is all about but remembering the images of a hazy bar with a small stage, cool jazz musicians singing and joking, people around the tables smiling, smoking, dancing, drinking... There are no tables here in Preservation Hall, no glasses with drinks, not even seats, except some rough wooden benches and cushions on the floor. There are people. And, there is MUSIC. Only Music. The most spirited traditional jazz music that slowly works its way under my skin and inhabits my soul for good. The most amazing sounds of the trumpet, clarinet, piano, contrabass, trombone and drums that create vibrations and harmony to make me feel the sound of my own heart. The most conversational, spontaneous piece of music that helps me explore every note and every feeling emerging within me. Music that tells stories and holds history. Music of grace and beauty, resilience and soul. Music that inspires. Music that express the rhythm of the human life.
I have never felt this close to New Orleans. Neither eating the delicious Cajun food, nor wandering all day long through the streets of French Quarter have brought me to the irrepressible spirit of the city as these amazing musicians have just done it. With my first footstep here, I sensed uniqueness, freedom, energy (and smell) bubbling up from everywhere like in only few other cities in the world. I felt the existence of something truly magical. And until this concert at Preservation Hall, I wasn't sure what it is. But the more I think of NOLA, the more I am convinced that everything starts with the MUSIC. It is the music. The honest, enduring melodies, overflowing with joy, pain, survival, hope and history. This integral cultural part of the place, big and deep like the mighty Mississippi River that connects people and celebrates life in a way you will see nowhere else. New Orleans, after all, gave the world that jazz, that distinctive musical style which has been as different, complex and intriguing as the city itself. And even the horrible Katrina couldn't wash away the music. Because music and the city exist as a single living organism that breaths with you everywhere you go, every corner you turn. It follows you not for the reason of entertaining you, but rather to give you a chance to experience it in a way that you almost can't describe but will never forget. Because live music here is not an event, it is a beating heart.
"Sacred, hallowed ground", these are the words Tom Waits chose to describe Preservation Hall with while recording here.
Sacred, hallowed ground, indeed!

(take a virtual tour here)





Recommendations:

Explore

  • Take a City Sightseeing Tour in a minibus or bicycle to become acquainted with all neighbourhoods of the Crescent City – from the historic French Quarter and the devastated by Hurricane Katrina Ninth Ward with its rebuilding project "Musician's Village", through City Park and Tremé to Garden District and Waterhouse District. The trip includes a visit to the Morning Call Coffee Stand for a coffee and, of course, beignets. Try their mini muffulettas. 
  • Explore the streets of the captivating French Quarter. Get a glimpse behind the wrought-iron gates and courtyard doors at the Galier House, Hermann-Grima House, Hotel Provincial,  St. Philip or Soniat House Hotels. Note the 1823 apothecary shop at Chartres, home of the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum.
  • Relax and enjoy the vibes and the historic architecture of Jackson Square. Overlooking the Mississippi river, it is the heart of the French Quarter. Musicians, painters, sketch artists, mimes, tarot-card readers and magicians perform day and night. Some of the best music can be heard right here. Enter the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral. 
  • Ride New Orleans's iconic St. Charles Streetcar LineIt is the oldest continuous operating streetcar line in the world, as it has been operation since 1835. Purchase a Jazzy pass and ride this historic olive green streetcar as much as you like. 
  • Walk the sidewalks of the elegant Garden District – a neighbourhood composed of some of the United-States's best preserved historic Southern mansions. 
  • Visit Lafayette Cemetery No.1, one of the city's unique cemeteries. Stroll through the ancient maze of above–ground tombs and learn the fascinating history of burial practices in New Orleans. 
  • Wonder into America's oldest continually operating public market, the historic French Market. It had its origin even before the city was established in 1718. Eat, drink, stroll and shop this riverside area for a lovely authentic experience. It is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  
  • Cross the Mississippi River with Algiers Ferry to catch a wonderful view of the New Orleans coastline and city. 

Music

  • Just outside the French Quarter lies a two-block street called Frenchmen Street home to some of city's most interesting music clubs. Go there and find talented musicians playing soul, R&B, funk and jazz. 
  • Attend a session of authentic New Orleans jazz at Preservation HallThese fine musicians only jam evenings from 8, 9 and 10. Line up early or buy a ticket through the website to reserve your seat. 
  • Stop at the New Orleans Musical Legends Park, where statues in the courtyard honor the city's great musicians. The park is free and the music is played all day and night.  
Eat 

  • Original Beignets and Café au lait served at Café du Monde since 1862, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
  • Original Muffulette from Central Grocery Company.
  • Po' Boy and Jambalaya from Mother's.
  • Gumbo at the Gumbo Shop.
  • Boiled Crawfish by the Boat at the outside balcony of French Market Restaurant and Bar in The French Quarter since 1803, a great view of the Joan of Arc monument on Decatur Street.
  • Oysters at J's Seafood Dock and Felix's Oyster Bar.
  • Creole Pralines from Leah's Pralines.
  • Jazz Brunch Buffet at the Court of Two Sisters Restaurant – wonderful, high-class Creole dinning experience from seasonal seafood, pâtes, jambalaya, turtle soup and duck à l'orange to Mardi Gras King Cake, Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce and Vanilla Lemon Cake.
  • BBQ at The Joint, Bywatre – where the locals eat.
Shop


             I hope you enjoy my reflection on New Orleans. Share your favourite NOLA experience with me in the comment section. 



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