Ernest Hemingway said, "There are only two places in the world where we can live happy; at home and in Paris." There is truth to his statement. The sun rises very late here this time of year and I had no time to waste. I got out as early as I could to walk around Montmartre. Sacre Coeur was on my list of things to see and I wanted to walk around Montmartre on a sunny day. Based on the report, deterioration is in the forecast, so today was the day for being outdoors. I had been to this section of Paris years ago, but didn't explore it as I did today. One of the most unusual sights was the Moulin de la Galette. The windmill was built in 1622 and immortalized by Renoir. Oddly enough, there are houses all around it...remarkable it is still standing. There is also a home in Montmartre where Van Gogh, Renoir, Utrillo and his mother Suzanne Valadon once lived, as well as a cemetary where Nijinsky, Dumas and Degas, among others are buried.
To continue my explorations, I ventured onto the Metro to go to other sections of the city. The Metro system in Paris is extraordinary. One can go anywhere in the city. Unfortunately everything is in French! Go figure. I made like Blanche Dubois and accepted the kindness of strangers when I asked a woman if she spoke English. She took time out of her busy day and helped me. If she hadn't been there, I would likely still be in the first Metro station having gotten nowhere. I made my way to the Louvre just to be in that area of the city and then walk along the Siene across the Pont Neuf and on to Notre Dame where I climbed the 400 stairs to the towers to see several breathtaking views of Paris. Afterward, I saw signs for the Pompidou Centre and wanted to see that most unusual of buildings.
Finally, one of the highlights of my day came at night. The server at dinner was from Nepal and spoke excellent English. A young couple a few tables away overheard us talking and asked if I would like to dine with them. The young man is a musician who favors American jazz and blues and wants to improve his English. We had a wonderful time sharing musical tastes and resorting to writing words down when our accents got in the way of understanding. That ends another magical day in France. Bon nuit!
I have included images of Moulin de la Galette, a chimera sculpture atop Notre Dame and my new friends William and Loriane. Merci beaucoup a vous deux!
Saturday night was the reception that I hosted for the committee, Les Amis de La Grande Vigne. These were the people who selected me for this honor. I was concerned about whether I had the right food, whether the work would be well received, whether the wine would be good and about my pigeon French! I needn't have been concerned about any of it. Why is it that most of the things that concern us never really come to pass? The committee members were a most delighful group and the evening topped off a waking dream for me. I found myself regretting that I didn't have the ability to tape what was being said just so that I could replay the beautiful French that was being spoken. Fortunately, 3 of the committee members spoke some English. This meant that I didn't have to rely on charades to be understood. There was a lot of laughter. I had a great time with the entire group.
The over-arching reason for the reception was for the committee to select a piece for their collection. I was pleased that they had difficulty making a choice, because, of course, I was concerned that my work be up to their standards. The piece that they selected was one that I included in a previous blog post, but I include it again here. This painting was inspired by a lake view within the Forest of Paimpont. When I saw the lake, I was transfixed and got out of the car to take resource photographs right away. Mist was falling, which threatened my camera lens, but I got shots that I knew would inspire some work. When I got back to the house, I was moved by this particular view and the painting practically painted itself. In fact, it seemed to come too easily without the usual struggle. I call paintings such as these my 'hole in one' paintings since they happen rarely. Oddly enough, this was the only painting that I made during my sojourn here that I had already titled. Good thing, too, since they wanted a title for the piece!
So, the winner is, "Vivianne Was Here."
So, prior to my trip, I loaded tons of books (finished one and am reading 2 others now) and also three magazines onto my iPad. I usually don't make time to read magazines that are not related to my work. For the trip however, I loaded 3 months of Oprah magazine. One issue is all about living one's life with a purpose. This idea has been one that is imperative for me and is one of the reasons that I made the trip to France.
Yvonne Jean-Haffen was the artist who bequeathed this opportunity for other artists to come live in Dinan, France for a month to work. Now, SHE was a person who lived with a purpose. Her home is now a house museum. Unfortunately, the museum is closed to the public during the winter months. Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to go into her home for a private viewing. This was a moving experience for me on every level. Her work was displayed throughout the home. She had mastered a variety of media including drawing, painting, and ceramics. The full collection of her work includes 4,000 drawings and paintings. What moved me most was her studio which appeared to also be her sleeping quarters. What a way to live!
Yesterday was market day in Dinan and I hated the thought of missing the experience. There is produce, cooked foods, cheese, meats and all types of clothing. Fortunately, I was able to go to the house museum and then head to the market before it closed. I will miss that experience. There are venors who have come to recognize my face. I also went into one of the shops to purchase a map of Paris. When I inquired if the shop worker spoke English, she answered me with "very little". I stumbled over my French to ask for the map of Paris and she said, "You do speak French". The months of study have paid off. I still speak so very little, and have so few words, but I have been able to get by. The real test... Paris! I will be living on purpose there as well!
I have included a photograph of Yvonne Jean-Haffen's studio and a photo of the little studio where I have been working for the month.
I think this is the first Thanksgiving I have ever spent without friends or family. It is just another Thursday here in France, which feels astoundingly odd to me. I will have some great French gastronomical delights and toast my fellow Americans while here in Dinan.
Deep gratitude doesn't begin to touch what I feel for having been awarded this opportunity. The city of Dinan has won my heart and I am hatching plans to return. Needless to say, I am grateful for the opportunity to paint and become acquainted with Dinan. Since Sarah's departure from the house last Friday, I have finished 2 paintings, have touched up the other paintings that I have made and started a new one as well. I am pleased with the results. Every evening I work late into the night and then work again in the morning. I could get used to this! The solitude is a petri dish for inspiration.
I am also thankful for being able to experience all the wonderful sites, people and... the food. Since Thanksgiving is all about the food (when it isn't about football), I leave you with photographs of some of the fine dishes and desserts that I have enjoyed while in Brittany. One terrific salad was consumed in a restaurant here called, Avec Les Anges. I hope you are all avec les anges today, Happy Turkey Day everyone! I do miss you! Bon appetite!
Some of the best experiences occur without a blueprint. Yesterday was a perfect example. I walked to town with several specific purposes, but rigidity isn't my modus operandi. Once I traversed the cobbled mountain of Rue de Jerzual, (one always feels that they should be at the top of the hill only to discover that there is much farther to go!) window-shopping was my reward. When a particular item caught my eye, I went into the shop and had a delightful conversation with a young woman from Holland who was employed there. At the age of fourteen, she met a young man from France. By the time she was 20, she fell in love with him and has been here since. Prior to her job in this store, she had worked as an aide to special needs children, but found that her sensitive nature made that job too painful for her. I am fascinated by other people's stories, so I was grateful to meet her. In fact, not being understood by others has been the most difficult thing. I miss connecting with people. Fortunately, in the last few days, I have met several English speakers.
After meeting my new acquaintance, I had hoped to go into one of the old churches in town, but the entrance to this ediface still eluded me. Instead, I found myself in front of the Castle Museum and waffled as to whether to pay the entry fee, reasoning that I could go later in the week. However, the weather is tricky here (it was cloudy with rain in the forecast for the next several days) and the view from the top of the museum would be compromised in inclement weather. Also, I remembered that my time in Dinan is becoming very limited, so in I went. This museum houses artwork and images that explain the history of Dinan. Of particular interest to me were historical genre paintings of the Port of Dinan which is the location of the house where I am living. Minus the contemporary boats and cars, the Port looks as it did several hundred years ago. By climbing 152 steps, I was rewarded with a terrific view of the city. The Castle Museum is the foremost monument in Dinan. It is composed of three elements that were joined together in the 16th Century. From what I have been able to piece together, the construction started in the 14th Century. The Castle was once a residence of Duke Jean IV, later it was a defensive complex and finally a jail. I enjoyed my visit there immensely and have included photographs of the Castle from the exterior and a photograph of what appeared to be a crypt. I could not discern the French description, so more research will be needed. I had to be careful in that particular room because the floor was solid stone and not level at all. It was like balancing on a cliff and quite dark in the room, so caution was warrented. Soyez prudent!
The day before yesterday was spent at Mont-Saint-Michel. What a fascinating experience. Spiraling above the waters of the bay, Mont-Saint-Michel is one of the most monumental and picturesque of the World Heritage Sites. I was able to see the abbey from the highway on the way to Dinan at the beginning of my journey and exclaimed to Sarah in excitement when I caught sight of it. We had a perfect day with regard to weather, the sun was shining and it was mild. In fact, it was colder inside the abbey than it was outdoors.
Mont-Saint-Michel is between the borders of Normandy and Brittany and is one of the wonders from the Middle Ages. Built on granite rock, it seems to rise directly out of the sea. What surprised me was the village at the foot of the abbey. The buildings consist of half-timbered houses that are crowded inside a ring of fortifications. The fortifications were built on sand which is most unusual.
Since it was low tide, we were able to walk around the whole structure which afforded some unique views. Also unusual, were some of the shops in the village within the fortifications. What we found in the shops were common tourist trinkets, including, believe it or not, squirt guns and Betty Boop totebags. A most incongruent location for those things to be purchased, I think!
I have included a photograph of me before going into Mont-Saint-Michele and a photograph of the shadow cast by the abbey in the sand. I guess I will have to include a photograph of some more food in my next post!
My friend Sarah went to pick her husband up at the train station in Rennes yesterday and will be spending time with him. Sadly, she is also going to go back home earlier than planned and I will be left to fend for myself. I said that I would do this trip by myself if I had to, but I didn't think that that would actually come to fruition. That said, I think that the solitude will be good for me in advance of returning home.
At midday yesterday, I realized that it may be prudent for me to have lunch out and eat dinner in. It gets dark very early here this time of year and since it is low season, it is a bit too quiet for me to feel comfortable traipsing around by myself at night. If nothing else, the cobble stones are precarious in the daylight, I don't need to be traversing them after dark alone. So, with all that in mind, I walked into town. The sun was shining on a glorious day here in Dinan.
I went to a restaurant that Sarah and I have visited twice already because they have wonderful salads. While waiting for my server to bring my meal, one of the men who works at the restaurant that I recognized from my previous visits swooped over to my table. He grabbed my camera and before I could protest, he indicated with hand movements (no English!) that he wanted to take my picture in the restaurant. Then, for everyone within earshot he announced that I was very beautiful (in French). I didn't buy into it, of course, but still... European men... gotta love 'em!
I am including one of the photographs that he took of me and also a photo from my walk along the beautiful Rance River this morning. The fog was beginning to lift on what would be a lovely, autumn day. The time that I have spent along the river has enchanted me, and the people of Dinan have as well.
It's funny... growing up in the Jewish tradition in West Virginia definitely landed me in the minority. That experience colors who I am every day of my life. Everyone responds to their circumstances differently, and of course I am no exception. As a result of my "people person" nature, I am always looking for the common ground. I think that the book "The Faith Club" spoke to me so eloquently because the pages illustrated the power of finding the common ground within very different cultural experiences. I digress a bit here to explain a little about "The Faith Club" because I so enjoyed this book of nonfiction. Written by 3 women raised within the different Abrahamic faiths, the book was inspired by the tragic events, and the subsequent grief, after 9-11. These women came together to discuss their differences, but also to explore their similarities. Strangers at the beginning, they became very close friends as a result of their common aspirations for themselves and the people closest to them. The book gave me faith in human nature when my confidence was flagging. I read it several years ago, but it inspires me still. You can find out more about this book and the authors by going to www.thefaithclub.com.
What I didn't realize until coming here was that I even search for the common ground visually. It must be my way of placing myself in unfamiliar surroundings. I panicked when I considered making paintings of the charming, but imposing stone buildings of Dinan. I will tackle that subject from the comfort of my familiar studio. While here, I will look to the common ground for my inspiration. Will the paintings look like France, I doubt it. Will they look like the landscape that speaks to my soul, absolutely!
I have included photos of two of the paintings that I have completed while here. Since I am waxing poetic about common ground, and since we all love food, I am including a photo of a terrific salad that I consumed the other day... enjoy!
This morning was dreary. When Sarah asked what I thought the weather would do, I repeated what my Dad used to say, "If it doesn't rain, it is missing a good chance." I know that I mentioned that I prefer sun. We have been rewarded with beautiful weather for the past 3 days, so there will be no complaints from this end.
I have been troubled a bit with regard to what I should paint. Before coming here I was afraid I would find no inspiration. Once here, I have had the opposite problem. There is so much that is stunning. Interestingly, however, I find that I am drawn to the river which is what I am drawn to at home.
Prior to leaving home, I took photographs of the paths near my house so that I could look at those scenes in case I should miss them. I looked at them just last night, in fact. Of course, we take ourselves wherever we go, so I have gravitated to the path across the street from the house in which I am living. This path follows the Rance and is gorgeous in all sorts of weather. Today, a walk was in order. Sarah headed for the city and I headed for the path by the river. I took my iPhone to listen to music and also to take pictures if something presented itself, which it always does. In fact, I took pictures until I was concerned that the rain might damage my iPhone. (Dad would be pleased that the chance of rain wasn't missed!) These images may be the start of a new series when I return. In the meantime, I am going to stick with some of the stunning scenes that I have encountered repeatedly, scenes that speak to me no matter where I find myself.
I am including two photographs from our trip to the coast on Monday and Tuesday. The first photograph is of Megalithic Alignments and the second is of the Cote de Granite Rose or Pink Granite Cliffs. The Megalithic Alignments were constructed incrementally, with succeeding generations adding to the alignments over the centuries. It is difficult to date them but is speculated that they were placed around 3300 BC. The Pink Granite Cliffs need no explanation. I promise to include more food photos soon! Au Revoir!
Woke to heavy fog this morning. The amount of daylight is limited at this time of year here. It seems that the sun doesn't battle its way through the clouds (if it wins the fight) until around 10 a.m. and it is dark by 5 p.m.. Therefore, this is the perfect place to ease into one's day.
Sarah and I saw fields of flowers last week when we went to the art supply store in St. Malo. We have been waiting for the sun to come out to go back and get some photos of those fields... no luck in that department yet. When we had sun a few days ago, we raced to enjoy Dinan in the sunshine and take reference photographs of the town rather than go out into the fields of flowers. I do hope that the fog breaks with bright sun today.
Although I have several friends, and likely, family members who enjoy a rainy day above all others, I am my father's daughter and much prefer the bright sunshine. My father would have been 90 years old today. He was stationed in Panama during WWII where he learned to speak Spanish. As a result of that experience, he always wanted to visit Spain and planned to do so when he retired. Unfortunately, Dad died 29 years ago and never made it to Spain. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of my father. So, although I am not in Spain, most of my travels have been dedicated to my Dad and I remember him most keenly when I am far from my home. I like to think that he looks out for me now even as he looked out for me while he still walked this earth. So,the dessert that I am sure to have today is for you, Dad. Happy Birthday, your memory is a blessing!
Sharing a photo of Dinan taken from the Ramparts and in the distance through the atmosphere.
And one more thing... James Cullum wrote a terrific article about me for the Lorton Patch. To read the article go to: