France, England, Belgium and Germany were represented at the Maison Conti this week. I love the smallness of the European continent. One has the opportunity to be exposed to plenty of different languages and cultural points of view. The distance between San Francisco and Kansas City, to put it in perspective, is about the same as between Paris and Moscow. In the United States we're surrounded by ourselves while in Europe one rubs elbows with all the neighbors. Belgians and Germans often speak multiple languages, and enjoy vacationing in France. Our location is ideal for tourists on their way to Brittany, a favored destination, so we often get stop-overs. This week a Belgian couple, on their way home from the coast, just happened upon our village, parked in front of the house and decided to stay. We often get the opportunity to have long and interesting conversations with our clients, and so we get a picture of the lives of so many different people. The Belgian man is a surgeon and his wife an artist. Their children live far and wide. They enjoyed the studio and imagined coming back for a course. They encouraged us to stop by if we are ever in the Ardennes. If we were to visit all the places we have been invited by former clients, we could have a very extended vacation ourselves! It's really lovely how many of our guests seem more like friends by the time they depart.
I can't say that I've noticed much World Cup fever in the village, although Patrice did mention he'd watched the tie between the U.S. and English teams. The French team isn't doing as well as hoped, but it is making some waves! Today the team went on strike in protest of the decision to dismiss one of their teammates for insubordination towards the coach. That's almost unheard of! The French are expert protesters and readily take to the streets when they have grievances. I guess the footballers feel they have the same rights, even in the middle of a tournament! Apparently the French public isn't so interested in the games this year. Of course, if their team were winning it would be a different story. But why waste the emotional energy if the performance is mediocre? I happened to be in Paris ten years ago on the night the French won the European Cup, and I can assure you they are quite capable of unbridled enthusiasm when there's good cause for celebration. I'm not sure if the public is on the players' side in this disagreement or not, but "shocking" was the word used to describe the events on CNN and the BBC.
The British team isn't performing to expectation either. I heard on the radio that the British are considered to be both the best fans in the world and also the most unrealistic about their team's chances. Speaking of British sporting events, I have always loved the comment made by John Cleese when comparing the U.S. to England: "When we hold a World Championship for a particular sport, we generally invite teams from other countries." He was, of course, making fun of our World Series in baseball. World? We've spent several evenings watching the French coverage of the World Cup. I've been enjoying it quite a lot. I'm not usually much of a sports fan, but I've been swept up and it is thrilling to see so many countries playing the same sport in the same location.
Our area is particularly well-known for its small organic farms and producers of gourmet products. Within walking distance of our house in one direction we have a farm where they make artisanal goat cheeses in many beautiful shapes and delicious flavors. In the other there is a foie gras producer who makes duck and pork products and gives cooking courses. Sophie, with her husband owns the Enterprise Meulemans. Her mother is quite a talented artist. As a gift, she gave her mother, Sylvie, a course at Atelier Conti. Sylvie spent two afternoons with me and took to etching like a duck to water. She dove right in and started carving away on her zinc plates without a second thought. She was quite brave about dry point, in which no acid or varnishes are used and no preliminary drawing; one just marks on a plate directly with tools as if the surface were a piece of blank paper. Sophie created several nice landscapes.
During the final hours of the second day, I gave her a quick introduction to aquatint and she was able to create this charming little seascape in a very short time.
I inked her plate à la poupée so that she could imagine it in color as well. She was very pleased with her results and so was I.
While she was working I did a bit of experimentation myself. I so rarely work in dry point but I very much enjoyed how direct it can be. I've always loved working with sandpaper, which can be posed on top of the plate and then run through the press to gouge the texture onto the surface. The plate is then inked and voila! I created both the cat and the nude simply by cutting out shapes with sandpaper and impressing them into the zinc.
Once a year the Monsmirabilis (marvelous mountain) Association hosts Chevalets dans la Cité (easels in the city). Artists from far and wide come to town to spend a day painting or drawing a scene of our picturesque village. In the late afternoon there is a gathering at the Salle des Fêtes and a panel of judges chooses winners in various categories. The first year we arrived, I was asked to be a judge because I am one of a few other artists who are actual residents. This last Sunday marked my third year on the panel. The day was quite cold, glacial, as Mme Guedet the bouglanger put it, so not very conducive to painting in plein air. Despite that, the quality of the art was higher than usual. I really enjoyed myself. For one thing I talked Rick into accompanying me and that always makes everything more fun. While we were waiting for all the art works to be mounted, Pierre and Odile showed us a book of photographs of the village from the early part of the last century and gave us a commentary about what has changed. Odile pointed out her grandfather and father on one of the pages. Her grandfather was the blacksmith, a tall, burly man. There was a photo of him in front of the old forge from 1917. Pierre and Odile and their son Michel are the backbone of the association. The heart and engine is Samuel, but he wasn't there. It's the first time I haven't seen him at a Monsmirabilis event. Of course, he and his wife no longer even live in town, so I am sure he is trying to encourage others to step into his very large shoes.
Samuel was one of the first people we met when we moved to town. At that time, he ran the local epicerie and, with his wife Celine and three young cherub-faced children, lived next door to the shop. He is French Canadian and so bilingual. He talks to me in French but often writes me emails in English, and is the person I go to with any questions I have. He is extremely patient and generous. Samuel is a very bright and energetic guy and so he sold the grocery business and took a job as a computer programmer in Le Mans. He moved with his family to a town a bit closer to his new employer. This was a huge loss to our village, since he is the main organizer of all the events Monsmirabilis sponsors, but most especially the Medieval Fair in early August. Even though he's been gone from town for almost two years now, he's still the president of the association and the motivating force behind the numerous local activities. Pierre, Odile and Michel with the help of a very few others, do most of the work. I was asked this year, much to my great surprise, to be on the board. I don't often feel as if I have much to contribute, but I'm warming up to it. It's a friendly, lively town and it makes it feel more like home to participate in some of the activities!
Postcard advertisement for the etching class in August, made by Samuel.