Monday, June 16, 2014

En vacances


Summer is in full swing over here. We are extremely busy with clients and friend and family visits. Emily is moving in just two weeks from her charming but small artist's loft in Paris to a real house with garden. We are building furniture for her and helping pack boxes when we can. Our garden shed is still under construction and all the many other projects that are near and dear to my heart are put on hold until the pace of life becomes leisurely again.

The weather is cooperating. Warm breezy days, azure blue skies and huge white clouds are the norm. Our clients consistently eat meals on the terrace. The village is become animated.


It has been more than 5 years since launching this blog. At first my posts were quite regular, at least once a week. Lately there has been a longer gap between, but I have not often left more than a couple of weeks go by without a word. It has brought me a lot of joy to write this blog and through the it I have made some very nice connections.

I have mostly thought of this space as a way to journal my thoughts, and capture the history of my days. I have also offered it as a way for friends and family at home to keep current on our activities. I hope to have provided a little information to people who love France about places to go and things to see. It has been a lot of fun. Now, however, I find I need a vacation from blogging. I intend to take the summer off and rethink this platform. I expect to be back in the fall at which time I may change venue or direction.

I really appreciate all the kind things people have said regarding the blog and the comments people have left over the years. If you would like me to send an email to you when the blog is back on line, please leave a comment here, and I will make a point of it. Or you can always contact me through the email address for Maison Conti.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Cyanotype

Cyanotype of a sunlit forest path.


Lately I have been experimenting with a somewhat magical old photographic technique called cyanotype. Basically one mixes a couple of chemical solutions together, paints the resulting photosensitive mixture on watercolor paper, allows the paper to dry thoroughly, places a negative onto the prepared paper inside a clamped glass frame and allows it to be exposed in the sun for a few minutes. The print is then developed in running water. Voila. You get an interesting all-blue image.

This winter we set up a darkroom off the atelier which allows me to explore some of these simple techniques that seem a natural extension of printmaking to me. If you have an interest in old photographic image-making methods, visit my Pinterest board on the subject, to find some wonderful links. Step-by-step directions for making your own cyanotypes are found there. The community that embraces this craft tends to be very warm, helpful and enthusiastic, so feel free, as I did, to ask questions of the experts. In my experience they always answer.

I started by using photographs for my prints, which lose a lot of detail of course, but can look quite interesting and moody. The technique works perfectly well for drawings and collage also. I haven't tried it, but apparently it even works with leaves and other organic materials.

On Lynda.com you can take a class with Brian Taylor who uses cyanotype as a first step in a process that adds color with another chemical on top of the blue. I have bought the chemical and begun to experiment with this further refinement, but have not so far gotten anything worthy of sharing with you. Brian makes beautiful books out of his images and explains his entire process from start to finish in the on-line course. When I want to treat myself, I buy a month of Lynda.com access and I have found some really wonderful courses there. Brain's was one of my favorites.

Here is a gallery of my first attempts at this interesting technique. My favorite image is the last one. It was actually made with a positive, rather than a negative, so that everything which was meant to be black turned white and everything else turned a shade of blue. This was a collage I put together in Photoshop with a map imposed on top of a photograph of a local church. I was amazed and delighted with the detail of the map lines and type, which are completely legible in the resulting image. In that one I am showing you how the edge of the paper looks with the solution painted on a bit randomly. I like the way the whole thing turned out. I feel inclined to leave the image uncut and incorporate the sloppy edge as part of the final presentation.


Made from a negative. The lake at La Ferté-Bernard


Emily in a Paris café. I like the detail out the window. The mid-tones, however are almost completely lost. Still, I am happy with the mood.


Made from a positive of a pencil drawing.



Photoshop collage


The church at Lavardin with a map superimposed over the image. Here I used a positive, so tones are reversed.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Life is a Rainbow

A recent view out our window


My blog posts seem to be becoming fewer and farther between as the spring progresses. It may have something to do with the weather. It's hard to stay indoors when outside you can almost watch the plants growing.

Today I'm reporting on an adventure that took place on May 1st. Where has the time gone since then? I can not account for it. Still, it's another tour of Paris, and so hopefully of some interest to you.

My brother and his wife Marilyn came to town on their way to Switzerland, where they are taking mountain hikes. They were kind enough to include Paris as a brief stop-over, just to make contact with us.

Marilyn is an English professor in California who specializes in 19th century literature. She is also very clever, organized and energetic. Therefore, although they were just in town for one full day, she had planned a very interesting walking tour that included the houses of Victor Hugo, Marcel Proust, George Sands and Balzac, all of which are now museums.

We met first thing in the morning at the beautiful Place des Vosges on May 1st. I had invited my friend Nelly to accompany us and she graciously accepted.

One of the entrances to Place des Vosges

It was a beautiful morning, but unfortunately we had not calculated that May 1st is a worker's holiday in France and very few museums stay open, in fact all the ones we intended to visit were shut for the whole day.

The garden at Place des Vosgues

Nelly immediately took charge of the situation and with a little quick research found an alternative itinerary for us.

My brother Gary, his wife Marilyn and Nelly doing research on her iPhone


The Museum Jacquemart-André is a beautiful "hôtel particulier" in the 8th arrondissement of Paris near the Champs-Elysées and it just happened to be open. It also had a nice nineteenth century connection to satisfy Marilyn's area of expertise We jumped on the metro and headed that direction.

Edouard André (from a wealthy banking family) and Nélie Jacquemart (an artist in her own right). built a sumptuous home in a new section of Paris during the later part of the1800s on blvd Haussmann, completed in 1875. They became avid art collectors and after their deaths, left their beautiful house and important art collection to the state. It is now a very popular museum. I hadn't been there for years.

The ballroom, where the walls are able to be removed allowing several rooms to serve as a huge dancing floor

The house itself is certainly very grand and interesting, but it is definitely their collection of art which fired my imagination.

One of the salons

The atrium and "winter garden" were my favorite rooms in the house, bathed in natural light.

Atrium

Most of the other rooms seemed a bit dark and overwhelming to me.

Winter garden

The most impressive rooms, in my opinion, were on the second floor and held the "Italian Collection." mostly works form the Renaissance. It's hard to imagine living one's daily life in a house which includes rooms like these!

On of the Italian gallery rooms
The stone archways and opulent wall furnishings provide a glorious backdrop to some remarkable paintings, including Saint George and the Dragon, painted around 1470 by Paolo Uccello, a painting Marilyn references in some of her courses.

St. George and the Dragon

We also were able to see the temporary exhibit which featured paintings and drawings by Watteau and his contemporaries. I love the way that trees were painted during this period. They always look so French to me and like none other before or since.

La Fête à Saint-Cloud by Jean-Honoré Fragonard

After spending several hours at the museum, Nelly suggested we have a refreshment at Les Deux Magots, a café not far from her house with a very famous literary history itself, of course. I actually had never been there, so it was something of a treat for me.

The famous Deux Magots
Did you know that Magots are Chinese figurines? I personally had no idea. These two, which give the café its name, have been in place since about 1870.

Les Deux Magots






Nelly and Gary had iced coffee and Marilyn and I had Perrier-Menthe. It ended up being a wonderful day, after an uncertain start.

Nelly and Marilyn

Gary and Marilyn came out to Emily's house for dinner. Marilyn, as always, brought the children presents. For Quinn it was a group of Star Wars figurines, which apparently are all the rage in his kindergarten! He was over the moon. For Zinnie is was a collection of purses, a little mirror, and even some lipsticks. She was immediately fascinated. And when she put the lipstick on...goodness! How could a little bit of lip color make her immediately seem like a miniature teenager?


Zinnie gets glamorous


***
Meanwhile back at home, our season is well underway. When we're not attending to our clients, you are likely to find us in the garden.


A view of the castle and church in Montmiral

We often walk up and back twice a day.

A driveway we walk past on the way to the garden

We still haven't planted our tender vegetables, like tomatoes, but our beans are in the ground, and our sweet peas and nasturtiums are already coming up.

Our vegetable garden as it begins to be plants

Our new flower border contains nothing but well-established perennials moved from other parts of the garden. It makes for instant gratification, although they are certainly not all in bloom as yet, they have grown together just the way a border is supposed to.

The flower border contains a collection of columbines, foxglove, sage, a flowering quince, hollyhock, delphiniums and penstemons

This is the glory time of the year for the peony plant, which must be ancient. I planted two others, more subtlety colored two years ago, and they are nowhere near the size of this giant and have yet to bloom.

The peony has been in our garden since the beginning

Even if we have given over a large part of the garden to vegetables this year, I still can't resist making way for some flowers, including sweet peas, which are always my favorite, and violets which can, after all, be added to salad.

The salad border, with a funny trellis we weaved together from twigs to support the sweet peas

Meanwhile, we are also making some progress on our little garden shed/greenhouse/play house. We're using all old doors and windows recycled from our garage and neighbor's house to create a kind of gypsy look. Rick is making it up as he goes along... we'll see how that turns out. Next comes a picnic table just in time, hopefully, for summer barbeques on the new deck.

Rick framing the last wall of the shed

It is wonderfully pleasant to spend our time in the sunny garden. I often bring a box of paint and do a bit of water color sketching.

Wicker chair beside our new flower border, a pleasant place to sun bathe 



***

Summer is just around the corner.

Outdoor pleasures

Monday, April 28, 2014

Happy birthday to me...

We discovered the village Villaines la Gonais on my birthday and found it to be completely charming


Since last talking to you here on the blog, I have been having a non-stop birthday celebration. It began when Emily and family came chez nous for the actual day which happened to correspond nicely with the kids spring school holidays. It was so pleasant to have everyone around for a few days, even if during most of the time Quinn was rather ill.

Quinn and Zinnie survey the Place outside the gates.





We spent a certain amount of time in the garden where we are just beginning construction of a playhouse for the children.

football on the garden lawn





The weather wasn't nearly as balmy as it had been earlier in the month, but we enjoyed ourselves anyway. It's really wonderful to have a place to "get away."

Relaxing in the garden





On the actual day of my birthday, I requested that we find a riverside somewhere and enjoy the water running by....my idea of heaven. We were delighted to find a little park right next to the Huisne where we spread out a blanket and relaxed all afternoon. It was perfect.

The banks of the river Huisne, not far from home





On the day after, in the early morning hours we woke up to a huge amount of commotion and uncharacteristic traffic just below our windows. I looked out to discover that our local restaurant and two adjacent houses were on fire. In the end, they burned to the ground. It was quite a dramatic and sad moment for our little village. My birthday happens to also be the day the Titanic sank and Lincoln was shot. Somehow my birthday seems prone to catastrophes and disasters. I try not to take it personally.

***

Emily's birthday present to me (among several others) was to take me out for a girls' day in Paris. She had an adventure all planned, so we went along to the big city last week. Rick stayed to babysit and Emily and I enjoyed ourselves with eating, shopping and discovery.

At the junction of Ave de la République and Oberkampf

Emily wanted to introduce me to the chic neighborhood called Oberkampf, on the border between the 3rd and 11th arrondissements, an area I have little experience with. It is a laid back part of town, with much less traffic than the center and not many tourists. But it is a definitely upscale location for Parisian residents.

Charming little park

 This neighborhood is quite fashionable with lots of great restaurants, art galleries and shops.

Chic little shops blend with elegant apartment buildings


I love Parisian architecture and one can always find quirky and cute little buildings along side the grander traditional ones.

On the Passage Saint-Sébastien


I am especially attracted to beautiful doors, which, of course, can be found in all Parisian neighborhoods.

Two of the doors that caught my eye during our stroll through Bastille






Our first stop was at the boutique of our friend Sophie (14 rue Ternaux Paris 11ème. m° PARMENTIER), the wife of our printmaking neighbor Georges. She has a "pop-up*" shop in the neighborhood where she sells her beautiful jackets and bags. She travels to India every few months to purchase antique fabric, out of which she designs and has made her delicious products.

*A pop-up shop is one that is open only temporarily, in this case in someone else's office space.

Unfortunately when we arrived at her attractive shop, it was closed for lunch





These are one-of-a-kind garments. I really love them. The jackets are completely handmade, lovely and flattering to wear as well as reasonably priced. If you want to visit her on the internet, go here. She also has a Face Book page.

Jackets by Sophie Escojido





Her bags are also unique items, made from recycled Indian wedding dresses.

Bags by Sophie





Emily had chosen a very hip restaurant named Au Passage with fresh tapas style plates as our luncheon destination, but unfortunately it was closed that day. We didn't have to go too far afield to find another very special place, albeit casual. It is a taco bar called Candelaria. If you live in the U.S. this may not sound so extraordinary, but for me it was a real treat, as authentic Mexican food is almost impossible to find in Paris. This little trendy place is very small but serves the most delicious tacos, guacamole and handmade tortilla chips in the whole city. It was lots of fun and satisfying.

Candelario Taco resto





We wandered into Atelier 154, an upscale furniture store with gorgeous and very expensive minimalist chairs, desks, tables and so forth. Emily is seeking inspiration for the new bigger house, which they will move into in July.


Atelier 154 showroom

The place was really vast with an eclectic mix of simple classic furniture and brightly colored accessories.


another of Atelier 154's showrooms


I really enjoyed the very interesting concept store* called Merci. It is much bigger than it looks from the street, with several floors and many shops in a kind of open floor plan. They sell the most luxurious clothing, home ware, linens and kitchen gadgets. One could definitely spend all day here and never get bored.

* A small shopping outlet that specializes in elite and fashionable items that are often arranged thematically.

Merci is a very popular place for shopping

There are two cafes here including this one which has thousands of used books on the walls to either read while you sit here, or buy when you leave. All the tables, lamps and chairs, and presumably the dishes as well are for sale.

We had coffee and crumble at the cafe


The theme of the store this season is plants and animals. They were selling chickens and goats in the nursery section...of course the chickens were not any ho hum variety, but these extravagantly colorful ones.

Chickens for sale in Paris





Emily wanted to take me to Anna Ka Bazaar to pick out some fabric. She is making me a skirt for another of my numerous birthday treats. She really spoils me. The fabric here is all made in Japan and has that whimsical Japanese elan.

Anna Ka Bazaar


Our last shopping stop was the wonderful Les Trois Ourses which we have both wanted to visit since learning about their workshops and handmade book showroom. Some of the most clever book artists in the world have limited edition books for sale here. There are so many clever forms, all fresh and very graphic.

Les Trois Ourses showroom

We spent a long time looking at various books and choosing one apiece to take home with us. Emily chose a box of transparent pages that could be arranged and stacked in different ways to create stories. I bought a book that opened up to reveal four small slip covered accordion fold pages that can be viewed two ways to see two different pictures. Both so very clever.

Emily at Les Trois Ourses

Before taking the bus back home we stopped off for a few dinner supplies. We bought some excellent bread at Le Pain Quotidien,

Pain Quotidien


and chose a couple of excellent bottles of wine at Septime, a wine bar that is attached to a very chic restaurant. The white, a Maçon from Burgundy, was particularly wonderful. We also got some green olives there which were the most delicious I have ever tasted.

Septime wine bar




***

We spent the night at Emily's house and the next day Rick and Quinn joined us for one more shopping errand. We went up the hill to Montmartre to buy yet more fabric for several other sewing projects that both Emily and I are at work on.

This neighborhood is not so quiet. There are always crowds here.


Just below the wedding cake church, is a beautiful old merry-go-round.

Montmartre


Quinn happily took a ride with Rick watching, while Emily and I went to fabric stores.

Quinn has all of a sudden shot up


***




At home the kids enjoyed their evening rough-housing. Emily and Jos generally put music on in the evening the the children run and dance and bounce on the couch. At the end of it they (and we) are ready for bed time.


Zinnie and Quinn in PJs doing their evening dancing


Zinnie is quite the little girl these days, chatting, joking, playing and learning. Her mother makes her the most beautiful outfits which Zinnie is very proud of.


Zinnie at home



***

News from the village includes the birth of the blackbirds and by now their flight from the nest. That happened fast. I think the mother sat on the eggs longer than she spent with the young chicks. They're all gone now.

fledgling blackbird




It's lilac and iris time in the garden, making for extravagant bouquets.

First garden flowers