In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Notting Hill carnivalgoers hope to put seal on London’s summer-long party
Spirits are particularly high this year after multicultural success of the Olympics.
In the paper-strewn hall of Fox primary school, children, teenagers and a handful of enterprising adults are decorating brushes and sticking ribbons on to mops. “They’ve brought them from home; they’ve brought them from pound shops; they’ve brought all battered ones,” says Fiona Hawthorne, artistic director of this self-proclaimed “maverick mas[querade] band”.
“The theme is about brushing off insults and brushing away litter and sweeping out crime – children taking a stance in a fun way.” As they work away, the stereo plays soca beats and finishing touches are made to extravagantly sparkling accessories. In Notting Hill, it’s carnival time again.
More than a million people are expected to descend on west London for the annual event that brings musicians, dancers and party-goers on to the streets. As every year, there will be steel bands and masquerade, jewelled costumes and jerk chicken. But for those who, like Hawthorne, have attended every carnival for the past 30-odd years there is something indefinable in the air this time round, something that builds on the momentum of London’s triumphant, proudly multicultural summer and makes Hawthorne think this carnival is going to be the best ever.
“There’s a feeling of ‘we’re really going to enjoy taking over the streets’,” she says. “We’re really going to enjoy celebrating being in London 2012.”
The script could not be more different from that of last August. Then, in a city shaken by the worst riots in a generation, the Notting Hill carnival was approached with apprehension. As the first big public event since the violence, it was a test for the Metropolitan police, for the organisers and for London itself. This year the city has little left to prove. Not only has it hosted an Olympic Games, but in doing so it has celebrated what the Notting Hill carnival – even at its most fraught and controversial – has always celebrated: the strength and spirit of diversity.
France food fest lures gourmands
A week-long celebration of gastronomy aims to tempt would-be gourmands on tight budgets into the world of fine French dining next month with two-for-one fixed-price meals at more than a thousand restaurants across the country.
In its third year, “Tous au Restaurant,” or “Everyone to the Restaurant” has signed up 1,200 eateries, both Michelin-starred and more modest establishments, to offer diners a set three-course meal at a reduced price from September 17-23.
“It’s about democratizing gastronomy, which is thought of as expensive,” Jean-Bernard Bros, deputy mayor of Paris in charge of tourism, told Reuters. “It attracts clients who aren’t necessarily in the habit of going to new restaurants.”
France has a long and rich culinary heritage, at the apogee of which sits the “gastronomic meal,” a ritual-laden social tradition added to UNESCO’s cultural heritage list in 2010.
But French cuisine – frequently infused with butter and cream – is often perceived as fussy and out of touch with modern appetites for simpler, healthier food.
With a looming recession also weighing on diners’ choices, a new generation of chefs has sought to combat that image with lighter menus and more casual eateries offering quality meals at affordable prices.
Online bookings open for Tous au Restaurant on September 5.
At a lunch to promote the event, organizers and members of the press convened 125 meters (410 feet) in the air at the Jules Verne, the Eiffel Tower restaurant of celebrity chef Alain Ducasse who dreamt up the idea three years ago.
“We’re killing ourselves – gastronomically!” said Bros, as waiters brought out a sample menu of appetizers which may be on offer in September – cucumber gelee with creme fraiche and a raw sea bream served with lime zest and shredded egg.
The food fest continued at Citrus Etoile off the Champs-Elysees where cod poached in a ginger and sake court bouillon and a simple puree of tiny green peas graced the tables.
Richard Quest: So, just how far would you go for that golden status?
August is nearly over and I am getting worried. Will it be gold by the end of the year? Or will I have to settle for silver? Or, heaven forbid, bronze?
This has nothing to do with the Olympics. It is a competition in its own right, known and celebrated by road warriors and frequent flyers. During the year we count the miles we’ve flown and calculate just how many more journeys we need to reach the milestones required for top-tier status in the loyalty programmes of the airlines we fly and the hotels in which we stay. Everyone wants to get to the top, because with that top tier comes status. Upgrades. Recognition.
Don’t scoff. Everyone does it one way or another. We all like to be recognised and to feel special. Being gold does exactly that.
On flights there are subtle reminders of one’s elevated status. Other passengers probably won’t notice, but golds are usually asked first about their choice of meals. Their bags have special tags on them to make sure they come off the plane first. And they are earning miles at a higher rate than other people, too. In hotels there are special check-in desks. Upgrades to suites just seem to happen. There’s fruit and wine in the room, and private lounges where you can have breakfast, sip happy-hour drinks, or arrange your late check-out.
But just like Cinderella, whose time at the ball ran out at midnight, so the clock resets on elite status at the end of a year. If you haven’t got the requisite number of miles, points, or overnight stays, the gold card disappears along with the perks.
It has me wondering: what is it that I actually prize? The perks or the prestige? Both, of course. Everything about these programmes is designed to ladle on the status, which in turn puffs up the ego. For the frequent traveller, extras rapidly become the norm. They make a working life on the road fun, enabling us to enjoy experiences our wallet wouldn’t normally allow. For a while you are rich and famous. And you don’t mind who knows.
Hundreds travel to see ‘restored’ Christ painting in Spain
It’s been dubbed the “world’s worst restoration”, but a 102-year-old church painting of Christ that now resembles a pale monkey is drawing visitors by the hundreds to a sleepy Spanish town.
The northeastern town of Borja garnered global press attention after residents decried the well-meaning restoration efforts of Cecilia Gimenez, described as being in her 80s, who made a horribly botched attempt to restore a flaking oil painting of Christ wearing the crown of thorns.
The “restored” painting looks like a pale monkey’s face surrounded by fur, with misshapen eyes and nose, and a crooked smudge for a mouth. Some media have called it the worst restoration in history.
Yesterday, hundreds of curious visitors queued up outside the Iglesia del Santuario de Misericordia church, where the image is painted on a column.
“The previous painting was also very pretty, but I really like this one,” a woman who had travelled to the town said on public television.
Titled Ecce Homo (Behold the Man), the original was painted in 1910 by an artist called Elias Garcia Martinez.