My Happiness Project!

Gosh! I didn’t realise how long it’s been since my last post!

Isn’t it always the way; just when you think all is plain sailing and you can finally relax, Life has a way  of creeping up and biting you on the bum; a stern reminder not to take anything for granted!…… In difficult times, the kindness and support of others never fails to amaze me – particularly my darling daughter who, sensing my increasing retreat from my usual positive self, presented me with a wonderful and timely gift, a book;  ‘The Happiness Project’ by Gretchen Rubin:

I sat down and read it in one go and, feeling totally inspired, decided to embark on a ‘happiness project ‘of my own; a month of unashamed indulgence in all the things I hold most dear –   yet all too often make little time for. As a result, I’m afraid this post is likely to be quite long so do bear with me….. and ‘apologies’ in advance.

I’d forgotten how much pleasure I take from reading. Well no, that’s not entirely true I hadn’t actually forgotten – I LOVE books!- but I had forgotten to take time out to read….. so that was my first mission. I followed Gretchen’s book with an utterly charming novel written by my dear friend, Eleanore MacDonald: ‘All The Little Graces’:

It is a heart-warming (and alas, all too often ‘heart-wrenching’) tale of the life of a stray dog on a Greek island and is wonderful read. Having watched Eleanore writing over the years, during her regular visits to Skiathos from her native California, I knew that her fierce passion for the Greek islands, its people, their culture and approach to life would easily guide her hand and that her sensitive soul and tender, caring disposition would help those in need to find a voice. I was not disappointed! From page one I felt instantly at home. It was so refreshing to experience such familiar territory through another’s eyes and Eleanore’s mastery of language carries one easily along, as though on a wave, gently breaking through the clear turquoise waters that surround Skiathos, on a calm still day…..Her delightful book is a voyage of discovery, plunging one to the depths of emotion while bathed in the constant warmth of unconditional love. This is a book that simply fills the heart to bursting…….so much so that with a sudden yearning for the island (and my own beloved menagerie) I took myself off to Skiathos  for a flying visit to welcome in the spring and breathe some fresh sea air.

The hillsides and meadows were already bursting into colour when I arrived, after what had been one of the longest darkest and coldest winters in living memory. Although short, my trip enabled me to put the garden and house in order for the year ahead and I would gladly have stayed for the looming Easter celebrations if pressing engagements in London hadn’t called me back…..I did manage to capture some of the glorious flowers which would hopefully see me through the gloomy days in London that still lay ahead:

and having the deserted beaches to myself, I even managed to fit in a painting or two:

‘Boats at Kolios’ oil on canvas

Another way to fill one’s heart (well, mine anyway) is to look at art so I’ve been making the most of my time back in London by doing the gallery rounds. I have to say much of what I’ve seen has left me unmoved – indifferent even – to the point of wondering if I’m missing the point of Art altogether! Not so the ‘Bigger Picture’, however; David Hockney’s inspired (and totally inspiring!) collection of new works recently on show at the Royal Academy:

I loved it so much I battled through the crowds twice and each time came away in deeper awe and I really can’t explain why. At the start of my first visit, I wasn’t particularly impressed but in studying every painting (and there are many!!) by the end, I was totally hooked…..I particularly loved the multi screen films – they were completely mesmerizing!

For many years my all-consuming passion was the ballet. Throughout my training I ate, slept, drank and dreamed in pirouettes, jêtes and grand pliès to the exclusion of just about everything else! So when I heard the English National Ballet were staging a tribute to Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes at their home, The London Coliseum, I jumped the at chance to go!

I saw programme one; ‘L’Apres Midi D’un Faun (with Leon Bakst’s fabulous costumes and set design),

Modern adaptations of the  ‘Firebird’ (set to Stravinsky’s incredible original score’) and  ‘The Rite of Spring’, plus a new contemporary piece: ‘Les Faunes’ both astounded and entranced and although I have to admit I’m a bit of a purist where the classics are concerned I nevertheless had a truly fabulous evening!

One of the best things about living in London is that so many friends pass through and soon after my return, our dear friends Magda and Dimitri from Taverna Alexandros, paid us a visit on their way to Scotland. Both such great company it was a real treat to be able to show them a glimpse of my ‘other’ life and our few days together passed in a whirlwind of sight-seeing, shopping and wining and dining. Their summers are full on involving non-stop work so it was wonderful to see them so relaxed and happy:

One of the very best things about the internet is being able to keep in close touch with friends all over world. Another artist friend in New York, Olga Dmytrenko, has a daughter (Anna) studying to be a concert pianist at the Royal Academy of Music here in London and, being unable herself to attend her daughter’s solo concert at St James’ Church on Piccadilly, she asked if I would go in her stead. I was thrilled! I took along my father (himself a classical musician) and we were treated to a wonderful recital by a truly amazing (only 19!) young talent! No sooner were the photos taken than they were emailed to New York and a very thrilled (and rightfully proud) Mum got a sense of the whole experience within just a few hours:

There is a real buzz about London right now as it gears up for all the memorable events in store. Plans for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee are well underway and of course preparations for the Olympics are uppermost in everyone’s mind. The whole city is being spruced up and there doesn’t seem to be a road that is not being dug up now (but not to ease traffic I fear, rather the ‘Cross-Rail plan’ has suddenly sprung into action which is bringing with it the inevitable chaos). Beautiful as London is – especially now the sun and spring flowers have decided to come out of hiding:

Yes, London is undoubtedly beautiful but in springtime…well Paris still takes some beating!

Time for a change of scenery and after a short hop on the Eurostar, leaving London far behind, we found ourselves, just a few hours later, walking along the banks of the Seine:

Crossing to the Left Bank:

Past the National Assembly:

We were on our way to St Germain Des Pres where we enjoyed coffee ‘Viennoise’:

al fresco at ‘Les Deux Magots’, people watching and admiring the contemporary street sculptures:

Next we explored the backstreets of this bohemian ‘quartier’:

where there’s so much to discover; everything from delicious ‘macaroons’:

In all colours and flavours:

and exquisite hand crafted chocolates:

hand-penned letters from famous authors and composers of a bygone era:

To flowers:

and antique lace:

The narrow streets offer up many surprises including tiny hidden gardens in glorious full bloom:

and ancient doorways:

Winding our way back to the river (distracted momentarily by the bookseller stalls):

We crossed the river again, this time via the Pont Neuf:

where, traditionally, lovers forge their bond by writing on and securing a padlock  to the railings:

Sadly, as we know, the course of love doesn’t always run smooth. Just a short distance away I found the most beautiful bunch of fresh pink roses:

unceremoniously dumped in the garbage!!:

We continued to follow  the tree-lined avenues past the Louvre, where the Leonardo Exhibition had arrived inside::

and the street artists gathered on the outside:

We ambled on through the Tuileries:

Where the Judas trees were heralding the approach of Easter:

and the light rain kept the sunbathers at bay:

By now famished and footsore we stopped for a delicious chestnut puree filled crepe:

and forgoing the temptation of a ride home:

We trudged our way back up the Champs Elysées in the rain:

Eager for the cosy comfort of our hotel:

The next morning, well-rested and raring to go, our journey of discovery continued.
First stop: the flea market at the Port de Montreuil (alas no ‘treasure find’s this time):

before winding our way back through the Place de Bastille to the historic Le Marais district:

with its maze of narrow streets, trendy boutiques and art galleries – notably those at the Place Des Vosges and everywhere symbols of its fascinating but often gruesome past:

We just had time, on our final day to visit the very smart Rue de Faubourg St, Honoré, the Madeleine, the Paris Opera, shopping at Gallery Lafayette, and ended our all too brief stay with a delicious lunch at wonderful bistro owned by renowned chef, Alain Ducasse: ‘Aux Lyonnaise’ (a real find!) before catching the train home…

My final indulgence this month was a real treat, laid on as a surprise once again by my darling girl:

The title says it all: The Little Venice Cake Company‘s ‘Indulgent spring inspired Masterclass’, at the Savoy hotel:

Presided over by none other than Mich Turner M.B.E herself – the Queen of Couture cakes:

Fifteen of us gathered in a sumptuous, recently refurbished suite overlooking the Thames, where we enjoyed hours of cake-decorating fun:

We learned invaluable techniques on cookie decorating:

and each had a large cake to decorate in basket weave:

Embellished with sugar paste roses:

The results of which (well, Mich’s anyway!) were stunning!:

and our efforts were rewarded with a beautiful certificate and fabulous champagne tea:

The day was SO much fun that as soon as I reached home I just had to draw a little cartoon to thank the team – and for me to remember every single delicious detail of it:

Now feeling thoroughly, thoroughly spoiled…..I think my happiness quota is well and truly filled – and no, not just for a month but for a long, long time to come!!

12 thoughts on “My Happiness Project!

  1. That is an incredible update as ever! I very much enjoyed all your Paris photo’s, it has been four years since we with there and it bought it back with stunning clarity. I love Montmartre and last time I was also entranced with the Latin quarter …. the flowers look so beautiful in your images. There is just never enough time…..
    I too very much enjoyed Eleanore’s book, you have written a lovely description of it.
    As for the rest, well it all sounds fascinating but I think Happiness Projects should be all the time (although, perhaps on a slightly small scale 😉 )


    • Thanks, Chrissy! Yes, I agree – one should do at least one thing that makes us happy everyday! Not on the scale of a trip to Paris of course – that was a one off – but it was beautiful. I love Monmartre too but there just wasn’t enough time, this time. Still we didn’t do too badly, fitting as much as we did, in only 2 days! (I think we walked a good 9 miles the first afternoon!). Clignancourt’s another favourite but being Easter weekend it was closed unfortunately. Still, it’s a good excuse to go back one day….in fact a fellow artist friend from OZ is running a short sketching course there next Sept. which is very tempting….. perhaps something we could do together?


  2. What a beautiful trip you had! It looks like everything went perfectly. And everyplace you went looks so charming in the springtime. Thank you for sharing your lovely trip…


  3. OMG! Yvonne another fantastic post – I love hearing about all your ‘adventures’. And the Cake Masterclass at the Savoy sounded wonderful! – what an experience!! I am going to order ‘All the little Graces’ immediately – sounds like something I would enjoy! Not visiting my beloved Skiathos this year – (snff, sniff) – Ive been persuaded to holiday in Turkey – so excitment tinged with a little sadness (i will miss my favourite place)!!
    Keep posting from Skiathos – at least I can hear about the Isand through your posts.
    With lots of love and best wishes.
    Wendy Brook
    P.S – My dad asked me to ask you if you have any paintings of Paraskevi Beach for sale ? x


    • Wow, Thanks Wendy! As always your response makes me feel it’s all worthwhile (someone actually reads my ramblings – Yay!) So sorry you’ll not be visiting Skiathos this year – it would have been lovely to meet up but I’m sure you’ll love Turkey – I’ve never been but I hear it’s not too dissimilar. Any way, have a great holiday and yes, I’ll certainly keep you posted…..As for a Pareskevi painting, no, I’ve never painted one (don’t know why – it’s always been a favourite) but I’ll certainly have a go….and then see if your Dad likes it….Keep well, Much love Y x


  4. Oh, Yvonne …. so beautiful, as usual. But Art and Ballet and Skiathos and London and – my favorite – Paris (in springtime, no less. OH, the flowers!!!! The color!!! The cafes … the beauty … the architecture … the art …) … it all just filled me up. What filled me up most, in a very selfish way, were your words for All The Little Graces. OK, you made me weep. It is a terrific honor, for me, those words – coming from you. I am eternally grateful. I do hope that you are inspired to wend your way back to Skiathos in May or June. (I’ll be there 19th May, breathing a sigh of relief as I step foot…) I look forward to seeing you there. In gratitude, for all of the beauty you bring to us. Eleanore xxx


    • Once again… such a wonderful way with words….Thank you so much Eleanore (not sure they’re entirely deserved!) But honestly, mine came from the heart it was a real pleasure…as is your book and sorry I haven’t done the review on Amazon yet – it’s next on my list, Promise!!Looking forward to seeing you in May! xx


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