Category Archives: Photography

Je suis Notre Dame…

“To know her, is to love her!”

The Beatles

Thank goodness, this isn’t a eulogy and has become more of an appreciation of our beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral. Indeed, these words are the outpourings of a heart which almost broke yesterday, as the blazing orange flames all but consumed her like a savage beast.  Yet, we’re not grieving her death, but are now grateful that she miraculously survived.

Like so many of us who have survived horrendous infernos of this magnitude, Notre Dame is still standing, yet all but destroyed.  I am a survivor myself and know that seemingly bottomless grief. Indeed, I have asked these very same questions myself…How did this happen? What has been lost? What is left? What can be done? I have also known that very same, fierce determination to get back on my feet and overcome like so many survivors. We will rebuild. Yet, it still hurts and the pain feels like it has no end. However, somehow you suddenly reach the other end of the rainbow and your ordeal seems like a bad dream, although the scars remain.

Personally, Notre Dame has never just been somewhere I went in Paris. Indeed, our connection has always been personal and it wasn’t just about the building either. No doubt, it’s the same for millions around the world and throughout history and we each have our own story to tell. Indeed, in a strange way and no doubt encouraged by Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, she’s almost come to life.  We can almost feel her pulse, her heartbeat and believe she knows and understands us in ways beyond human understanding. Indeed, as I watched those infernal flames blaze with such fury, I could hear her gasping for breath unable to discern whether she wanted to live or to die.

Of course, by now I was also walking through the streets of Paris crying and singing the words of the Hail Mary in solidarity with the people, although I didn’t know the words in French or in English. I didn’t need to. Notre Dame was in my heart. As Notre Dame burned, Paris might have been one of the largest cities in the world, but she was a village once again.

However, who was I kidding? I wasn’t out on the streets with the people of Paris. Rather, I was still stuck here on the other side of the world and couldn’t be there. Of course, it wasn’t quite the same sense of anguish you feel when a loved one is dying and you can’t get back. When you desperately want to hold their hand and say your “I love yous” and goodbyes and miss out. Yet, I still felt the need to vent. Respond. Do something.

So, I did what I could.

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Yesterday, on the way to the Art Gallery of NSW with my daughter, we detoured via Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral to pay our respects to the smouldering remains of Notre Dame and her extended global community. Indeed, I needed to pray and being there was the closest I could get to being near Notre Dame.

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Our daughter sitting on the steps of St Mary’s Cathedral on Tuesday. Not quite the same effect as Princess Diana at the Taj Mahal but there’s promise. 

 

Back when my husband first told me the news, I jumped straight out of bed and switched on the TV expecting some kind of mistake. Yet, there she was right before my very eyes…a blazing, orange inferno. Brutal, cruel and almost evil, she was trapped in the flames with no way out. Yet, the valiant fire fighters of Paris, just like those of New York on 9/11, were there fighting to put out the flames and save her from eternal destruction.

Notre Dame! The name says it all, even for me as an Australian.

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My backpack and I just before I left. 

On the 13th July, 1992 I arrived at Paris’s Gare du Nord with my backpack and I found my way to the Hotel Henri IV in Rue Saint Jacques only five minutes’ walk from Notre Dame. I stayed there with friends for a few weeks, exploring the city of light and romantic turmoil, while Notre Dame stood seemingly unmoved and her bells chimed.

Being immersed in all that history and architectural grandeur, was an incredible experience for a young Australian experiencing Europe for the first time. We had nothing like it. Unfortunately, the City of Love also turned out to be the City of Heartbreak and despair. Indeed, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that so many philosophers, writers and artists have gathered there. I definitely sensed a dark undercurrent to Paris, and perhaps in this context, Notre Dame needed to be the light.

Rowena Notre Dame

My parents met up with me in Paris and we not only went to Notre Dame, my father and I also had our portraits sketched out the front. While I don’t particularly remember the interior, I still remember going inside and experiencing the most incredible sense of peace…the peace which surpasses human understanding. I also remember feeling it was much cooler inside with a distinct temperature drop. Being July, it was boiling hot outside and perhaps it was a few degrees cooler inside the cathedral. I don’t know. However, this combined with the stained glass windows and subdued lighting did create an ambiance.

Yet, quite aside from that, I could really sense the comforting presence of God. Only a few weeks’ beforehand, my mother’s aunt had passed away. She and Mum were particularly close and brought closer still by Mum’s strict upbringing. So, although we’re not Catholic, we lit a candle for her. Lighting that wick, has always been special. However, it’s felt even sacred since the fire. It was such an incredibly poignant moment. I think we also lit a candle for Mum’s younger sister, Lyn, who’d suddenly been ripped away from us at 36 with double pneumonia. Lyn’s death was one of those wounds which never seemed to heal. Lyn was beautiful, vivacious and so young. Naturally, her death rocked everyone who knew her. It didn’t make sense and we just had to get used to living with our grief.

No doubt, over the last 856 years, millions have also had such moments where they’ve been  touched by God’s love and this indescribable peace at Notre Dame. Of course, I know this experience isn’t unique to us, although it certainly felt that way. People have prayed for the living, cried for the dead and wrestled with everything in between and Notre Dame has stood as solid as a rock through the French Revolution, two world wars, and hoards of visitors. Indeed, even that blazing infernal couldn’t destroy her completely, but it’s been too close a call.

Yet, she has also suffered terrible neglect, which has taken its toll. As Victor Hugo wrote in The Hunchback of Notre Dame:

 “(I)t is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer.”

So why was it so difficult to raise the money to restore and maintain this stunning, historic and sacred cathedral, which has always been at the very heart of Paris? It is hard to understand.

However, as we move forward as a global community, we now have the chance to show her the love we’ve always felt, but haven’t sufficiently expressed. She has given us so much, and now it’s our turn to give back in whatever way we can. For some of us, that will be in words or paint while others have been financially blessed.

Notre Dame needs to be that phoenix rising out of the ashes. We need to see that you can rise up from near total destruction, and start over not only as a building but also as individuals and communities. We can get better. Moreover, we also need to restore Notre Dame for future generations who will also be reaching out for God’s love and the peace which surpasses human understanding in an imperfect and often turbulent world.

Have you been to Notre Dame and would like to share your thoughts? Please leave them in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

O- Optimism…A-Z Challenge

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

– Oscar Wilde

Welcome to the latest installment in my series of Motivational Quotes for writers. We’re moving quickly through the alphabet and now we’re already up to O. The word for today is Optimism, which I believe is an important ingredient for getting that book project finished. After all, if you don’t believe you’re good enough and have what it takes to get through to the end, why get started at all? You’d be much better off staying in your day job.

Here’s a few more quotes I came across:

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an

optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

– Winston Churchill

 

“Life is too short to spend your precious time trying to

convince a person who wants to live in gloom and doom

otherwise. Give lifting that person your best shot, but

don’t hang around long enough for his or her bad

attitude to pull you down. Instead, surround yourself

with optimistic people.”

– Zig Ziglar

However, how do we retain our optimism in the face of repeated knock backs and defeats?

  1. Believe in yourself.
  2. Break the task down into smaller, more achievable chunks.
  3. Take some classes and skill up.
  4. Ask someone we trust for advice.
  5. Keep thinking laterally and looking for the opportunity. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.
  6. Keep writing. Set yourself a daily word limit to reach or a length of time to write. I don’t do this but I’ve read this recommendation a lot.
  7. Read some books, watch some people. Open your eyes and ears and constantly be on the look out for new ideas, observations, details which could help a story along down the track.
  8. Keep a small notebook for ideas with you.

I hope this encourages you all to feel more optimistic and positive about your writing and now we all just need to get out there and do it!

Do you have anything else to add? I’d love to hear from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

M- Mountain…Motivational Quotes A-Z Challenge.

“You’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting,

So… get on your way!”

― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

As I launch into my latest contribution to my series of Motivational Quotes for the Blogging A-Z April Challenge, I’m asking…What does a mountain mean to a writer?

I’m not sure if this is any different to what it means to a great adventurer like Sir Edmund Hilary, or even a toddler seeing a relatively small hill which seems like a mountain to them. However, a mountain represents inspiration, challenge, stretching yourself, great physical beauty as well as mystery even horror.

It is important to keep all these characteristics of the mountain in mind as we face our mountains through life, and not only in our writing or other creative endeavors. That way, we still appreciate the awesome beauty of the mountain while we’re almost dying gasping with everything we’ve got, as we struggle clawing our way towards the summit.

“The way up to the top of the mountain is always longer than you think.

Don’t fool yourself, the moment will arrive when what seemed so near

is still very far.”

– Paulo Coelho

Another interesting thing about people, is that we seek mountains out. We’re not content to simply keep walking along the flat, and strangely seek to stretch ourselves well beyond anything we thought possible.  We like to push ourselves. Indeed, that could well be a need, and part of what makes us human.

Above the trees

a mountain has melted

into haze

Michael McClintock

However, mountains can be more than challenging. Indeed they can be deadly. More than 296 people have died trying to conquer Everest. Although Sir Edmund Hilary was the first to climb it, he didn’t advocate conquering at any cost:

“Human life is far more important than just getting to the top of a mountain.”

– Edmund Hillary

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However, mountains aren’t just for climbing. They’re for painting, photography or simply dreaming and wandering. They don’t have to be a verb. They can just be.

On a less inspirational note, most writers would be familiar with having mountains of paperwork. After all, that’s what a book is. It’s a pile of paperwork either glued or stapled together and if we keep climbing and conquering these mountains, our name will be on the cover and on the spine.

Best wishes,

Rowena

While Your Were Dancing…

Yesterday, our daughter had a dance audition. It was about a half hour’s drive, and faced with the choice of hanging around for a few hours or driving home, I packed my camera, Dicken’s Little Curiosity Shop and my journal, and decided to stay. I watched her disappear into the studio with a number pinned front and back. The wait began.

The audition was held near a wetland area with well-maintained walking trails and it was clearly a perfect opportunity for me to fit in “my walk”. However, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that my walk was cut short. Instead, I recruited one of the other dance mums and we went to the cafe where I had a scrumptious passionfruit cheesecake and a cappuccino… quite the antithesis of a brisk walk.

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However, with another hour to go, I set out again armed with my trusty DSLR and followed my eye.

It’s Autumn here now and while most days are still warm and beautifully sunny, there’s that chill to the air. I must admit that for many of us, it’s a much welcome chill. Not unsurprisingly, the Summer heat can be just a little too intense, and the sun too bright. Personally, in that Goldilocks kind of way, Spring and Autumn are just right.

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A single leaf dangling in the blue sky…a striking beauty in old age.

 

In Australia, many, if not all of our native trees, don’t lose their leaves in Autumn and if it weren’t for the immigrants, there wouldn’t be any flashes of Autumn colour at all. Older, more established areas tend to have more deciduous trees than newer areas, which tend to go for Australian natives. Where we live near the beach, you have to look pretty hard to find any Autumn colour.

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However, as I was strolling around near the cafe, I spotted a plane tree with a single golden leaf, which looked rather striking and photo-worthy, particularly in the absence of much competition.

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I also found this fallen down leaf which had so much character and a lifetime of stories stored inside its veins.

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However, I didn’t just enjoy watching the leaves. Rather, I also loved walking through them and hearing that magnificent crunch underfoot. I remember seeing my children running through piles of Autumn leaves at my parents’ place when they were little and I still feel that magic. I always will.

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Just outside the audition venue, there was an amazing patch of native grass. It was late afternoon heading towards sunset when the light is at its magic best and the grasses just glowed. They were ever so simple, and yet absolutely magnificent.

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So, in the end, I didn’t even open my book or my journal and this serendipitous afternoon perfectly illustrated one of my favourite quotes, which I mentioned in my previous post, which was for the Blogging A-Z April Challenge:

Life is what happens to you while you‘re busy making

other plans.”

Allen Saunders & John Lennon

It can be very easy to groan and complain about driving your kids around and being “nothing but a taxi service”. However, it doesn’t have to be a drudge. I find driving along with my teenaged kids is the best time to touch base with them and actually communicate. It can also be quite illuminating when they’re chatting with their friend in the back seat quite forgetting that you’re there at all. You seem to become the butler, not the parent.

You can also make the most of waiting and even enjoy it. After all, waiting doesn’t have to be a waste of time. It can even become an inspiration. All these beautiful elements of nature were all just metres away from where my daughter was dancing. I didn’t even need to go and look. Indeed, you could even say they were waiting for me! How lucky was I!

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Never a dull moment!

After all, we truly live in a beautiful world!

Carpe Diem. Seize the day!

Have you been out into nature lately? Where have you been?

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

L: Life…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome back my series of Motivational Quotes for the Blogging A-Z April Challenge, which is geared towards writers and creatives working on their “big thing” Today, we’re up to the letter L and I could resist this favourite quote:

Life is what happens to you while you‘re busy making

other plans.”

Allen Saunders & John Lennon*

A few years ago, I came across this fabulous quote when our local Baker extraordinaire, Flaming Ron from the Bremen Patisserie wrote it down for me on a bit of paper while I was probably buying an almond croissant. Although Ron Bruns is famous for producing the world’s hottest meat pie, the Flaming Ron, he is also an unsung philosopher. By the way, just to put you in the picture, Ron and his Bremen Patisserie are located just North of Sydney, Australia and just down from the beach. However, Ron is the real deal and now calls Australia home.

What I love about this quote, is how it emphasizes the unpredictability of life. That we can have the best laid plans of mice and men, but that doesn’t mean they won’t get sideswiped, scuttled or choose to go somewhere else.  Moreover, it also touches on the economic realities faced by most creatives. You’d like to be writing full time and making a viable living, but you find yourself needing some kind of “proper job” to pay the bills “while you’re busy making other plans”.

Anyway, it’s the end of a busy weekend and I’m feeling rather pooped and brain dread so I’m going to head off.

Best wishes,

Rowena

* The lyrics of “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” contain the famous Lennon quote “Life is what happens to you while you‘re busy making other plans.” However, the expression of this sentiment can be traced back to a 1957 Reader’s Digest article, which attributes it to Allen Saunders.

K- Know Your Characters…A-Z Challenge

“You never really understand a person until you

consider things from his point of view… Until you

climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird 

 

Welcome to the latest installment in my series of Motivations Quotes for Writers and Creatives working on a big project, especially writing a book. This is my theme for the 2019 Blogging A-Z April Challenge.

Today, we’re up to K, which must be around halfway. So, I can let out a loud cheer for getting this far, because I almost didn’t take part this year as I’m deeply immersed in working on my book.

I have a background in sales and one of the things they really used to hammer into us, was to know your product. As writers, we also need to know our product in addition to our craft and that includes knowing your characters and knowing them well.

One of the tools I’ve used on and off has been the Proust Questionnaire. The Proust Questionnaire was originally a parlor game, which was popularized although not devised by Marcel Proust, the French essayist and novelist. Proust believed that, in answering these questions, an individual reveals his or her true nature. As writers, asking our characters these questions can help us develop more interesting, dynamic and effective characters in our work.

If you’re interested in checking out the Proust Questionnaire, you can explore the Vanity Fair version Here.

Here are a few other quotes I found about developing characters:

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” 
― Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

“Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.” 
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

“Sow a thought, and you reap an act;
Sow an act, and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.” 
― Samuel Smiles, Happy Homes and the Hearts That Make Them

“I don’t know where people got the idea that characters in books are supposed to be likable. Books are not in the business of creating merely likeable characters with whom you can have some simple identification with. Books are in the business of creating great stories that make you’re brain go ahhbdgbdmerhbergurhbudgerbudbaaarr.” 
― John Green

Lastly, while I was trawling around the Internet in search of quotes, I came across this fabulous quote about knowledge, which kind of touches on developing our characters but I feel also adds an important quality to our writing:

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
― Theodore Roosevelt

After all, if we really care about our characters and their wellbeing and what’s happening to them, that will draw the reader inside that vision which is what great writing is all about. It’s not just about us fulfilling our ambitions. Indeed, for the person paying good money for your book and not someone else’s, you don’t factor into the equation.

Do you have any tips for developing characters? What works for you? 

Thank you for joining on this journey through the alphabet and I hope you are feeling encouraged psychologically while hopefully also taking some action steps.

Best wishes,

Rowena

J: Journey…

Welcome back to my series of Motivational Quotes for writers and creatives working on large projects, such as writing a book. This is series is part of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge where we write our way through the alphabet to a theme. Today, we’ve reached the Letter J and I’ve chosen a quote which focuses on the journey. No doubt, you probably know it, but it’s always good to be reminded:

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Lao Tzu

Over the last few years, the word “journey” has been seriously over-used and has lost a lot of its magic. However, just because the word is tired, doesn’t mean that the nature of a journey has changed what with its changes of scenery, challenges, ups and downs and inherent movement from a beginning, through the middle and to the end. Of course, this progression could well be chopped and changed around when it comes to writing about it. However, one of the important things about a journey is that it needs to be lived.

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I’m always intrigued whenever I see these snail markings squiggling through the local rock pools. Well, it actually looks like the limpets in the photograph have made that journey.  

The quote from Lao Tzu is one of my all time favourites, and I often remind myself that the hardest part about achieving anything is usually getting started and taking that first step. Somehow, it seems to get easier once you’re actually moving, gain momentum and are on your way.

This quote is also a reminder not to let the enormity of what lies ahead, defeat you. Just get started putting one foot in front of the other and you’ll get there eventually.

Keep Going!

Obviously, to reach your destination you also need to keep going long after you’ve taken that initial step. After all, we’re talking about a journey of a thousand miles. That’s a long journey. It’s not a journey of one step and you’re already there to reach out and grab hold of your prize.

Isn’t it amazing how much you can get out of that one simple sentence?!!

Very great wisdom indeed!

Best wishes,

Rowena