Monday, February 28, 2011

Week 40: Children Big and Small

Beautiful clouds over Montmirail, with green green fields beyond

We picked up Rick's oldest son Farid at the airport in Paris on Monday. It was the first time he has come to visit us since we moved to France. It was a great pleasure to see him again. For the first few days he was here we lived in parallel universes. He slept most of the day and lay wide awake most of the night. I've never seen anyone hit so hard by jet lag.

One day Rick took Farid to Le Mans to show him the pretty old city while taking care of some "big city" errands at the same time. The Roman walls around Le Mans have been standing for two thousand years. The designs made with alternating brick colors are intricate and vary throughout the structure, which stretches several city blocks. The wall itself is held together with packed earth, not cement. These are some of the best preserved Roman walls in all of Europe, including Italy. I love the way that in succeeding centuries, people just built on top of them, making a lovely layer cake of architectural fashions.

Farid in front of the Roman walls of Le Mans

Our weather this week was mostly rainy, with moments of brilliant sun peeking through the clouds. We took several walks anyway. The crisp air is invigorating and there is a moodiness to the countryside on such days which seems almost Gothic and rather romantic.

 View over the garden walls

Roof Tops in the Place du Château, Montmirail

At a certain moment in the week Farid had the inspiration to shave his head. We found him in the bathroom with hair clippers in hand and a large pile of hair at his feet.

Off with the long locks

On the weekend Emily and her family arrived to visit with Farid. Some friends were passing by on their way from Brittany to Paris, so they were invited too. The house was full and lively for a couple of days as the party included three young children.

Emily, Jos and Quinn await the others for a communal breakfast

Stefan and Katell were at Emily and Jos' wedding, where we met them for the first time. They have two children, Lya and Zelie. Stefan is a magician and was an integral part of Emily and Jos' wedding ceremony. He made their rings appear in a burst of flame. It was wonderfully exciting and just right for the union of two actors/clowns. We've seen Stefan on television since, as he is quite a well-known performer in France. His wife is a poet and has just published her first book. Lya is 7 and Zelie 4.

 Quinn is happy to see Lya, who is very attentive to him

Breakfast in the dining room together

 Lya and Zelie play with Quinn's trains. Sharing is hard when you're 2

On Saturday it rained a bit, but an outing was planned to the zoo nonetheless. Quinn had a great time, especially seeing the monkeys, who are a particularly favored animal.

Quinn and his winning smile at the animal park, a really humane "zoo" near our house

On Saturday evening we invited several neighbors over to meet Farid. We had a drink at home and then went together to the restaurant in town. It was a rollicking great time. I meant to take photos but once everyone arrived I forgot all about it. The only photo I have of the evening is of a game of Pictionary before the guests arrived.

Pictionary by the fire

Katell and the girls were interested in learning a little bit about etching so we had a short class on Sunday morning. I prepared the plates and the girls, much younger than any I have taught so far, made  drawings using proper etching tools.

Katell and Zelie

Farid got into the action as well. Rick gave him the mini course and Farid made a sports-themed dry point.

Farid gets the run down from Rick

Lya adds some texture to the plate before etching

After the drawings, done on a hard ground, had been transferred onto the prepared plate, we etched them in the acid for a couple of minutes.

Lya is ready to ink up and print

I inked up the plates for the girls in various colors and we then printed them with great fanfare.

Lya turns the press. Zelie was just a little too small

Everyone looks on for the exciting moment when Lya's print comes off the press. Stefan is behind the camera.

Quinn , Jos, Emily, Katell , Zelie, Lya, me, Rick and Farid enjoy Lya's finished etching hot off the press

 Stefan, Lya and Katell with Lya's tree etching

Each of the girl's etchings were printed in four colors. Zelie made flowers and butterflies, Lya made a tree with clouds. They all turned out beautifully.

Most of the finished prints

Quinn hasn't shown too much interest in etching so far. He did enjoy taking each and every one of the crayons out of the jumbo box and dropping them one by one through a hole in the top of a trunk.

Quinn in the studio with Zelie

The week went quickly. especially the very active and social weekend. Children big and small filled the house this week, bringing lots of warmth, even while it blustered out of doors.

Children looking out of our apartment window on the third floor as I snap their photo from the terrace

Photos this week by Stefan, Rick, Emily and myself

Monday, February 21, 2011

Week 39: Here and There

 Winter trees

Time has flown past. I imagined winter might be endless, but in fact it is passing so quickly I almost want it to slow down. We took delivery on another few liters of fuel for the furnace and 2 more stere of firewood, but frankly the weather has become so mild, we may not be able to use it all up before the summer erases all memory of the cold. 

Another thing which went far too quickly was Margot and Wendy's visit with us. At first we all thought that nine days in the studio sounded like a very long time. Walks and outings were planned to fill in the moments when printmaking projects were finished. It didn't work out that way at all. It wasn't until the end of most afternoons, as the light was beginning to fade, that Margot would look up at the clock and remark, "Well, I guess I better leave for a walk if I'm going to have one." She is faithful about her daily constitutional. I wish I were myself. Instead, Wendy and I would continue to work indoors, me until it was necessary to turn on the overhead lights, Wendy longer still. Much was accomplished, much more left for the next time.

Margot worked exclusively on linoleum, creating three very charming prints. Both Rick and I were inspired to give this technique another try. I ordered a few plates which should arrive late in the week. Margot often works from photos she has taken on her travels as inspiration for her images. They are freely interpreted in her drawings. I like this way of working myself.

The first image she made was of her cat Sam, who, sitting with back turned pretending to be entirely inattentive to what's going on behind him, betrays his interest with ears swiveled around.

The next was a river scene of Lyon, with bikes lined up on the quai and apartment buildings across the water in the background. I love the little white clouds, hooked back by the wind.

The last was of the train station in Paris. She spent a great deal of time on this one. The proof I show here, with her plate, is only in mid-process. She ended up making the ceiling white and a lot more carving out here and there along the plate. I liked it at every stage. It was a lot of fun to watch it evolve.

Wendy's idea from the beginning was to create some plates with details of the village and countryside around us, and put them together in various ways. She works very delicately and her drawings are small and somewhat intricate. I find it very difficult to make such tiny images with anything like the precision that she has.

Rick cut her seven separate plates of 3 different sizes. I loved the way they looked all printed together in a stripe. No plate is more than an inch and a half high and they are all inked separately in browns, blues, greens and black.

She then experimented with printing them individually and in pairs, in several configurations and ink colors. The results were wonderful.

I worked on various things myself during the week, finishing a complicated book project I intend to publish on my family website next month, and started a couple of prints. One is still in progress but the other is more or less ready to print, a village by the sea.


It was Emily´s birthday at the weekend, so we came to Paris to celebrate and provide babysitting assistance while Jos and Emily had a meal alone together in the city. Every time we see Quinn he seems to have grown an enormous amount and uses a whole new group of vocabulary words in his various languages. His new favorite is "À tout", halfway to "À tout à l'heure."

Quinn is absorbed with cars. His latest trick is filling the inside with marbles and taking them out again.

He can also spend a good long time working on a drawing. This one was quite intricate.

When we arrived, Emily was working on a project for her blog post "Nature's Map: a Sewing Project." She used two beautiful fabrics she had bought at IKEA. The blue was on the outside and the white on the inside. She appliqued some of the bird images onto the front.

It turned out very nicely.  

Quinn immediately made it his own.


For Emily's birthday dinner, she wanted to go to dinner at Jim Haynes'. Jim is from Louisiana, but has lived in Paris for almost 40 years. For the last thirty of those he has been inviting up to 70 people to dinner every single Sunday evening. It has become quite a famous event, as anyone who calls him can be put in the list. The idea is to meet lots of people and enjoy an evening of great conviviality in a gorgeous Parisian home. Emily met Jim several years ago and interviewed him for our family web site. We have actually tried to make reservations before, but his dinners fill up quickly.

Jim lives in a very beautiful old atelier with windows from floor to ceiling. It is part of of a row of ten or so others that stand in a very private courtyard. One enters though a tall metal gate from a busy street into a quiet, tree-lined passageway. The noise of the city fades away, replaced by the buzz of people chatting quietly together.

The night was rather mild, so at least with our coats on, we were able to spend time outside in the courtyard and did not need to wedge ourselves into the crowd in the living room. It is something of an acrobatic trick to balance a plate and glass of wine and eat at the same time as standing shoulder to shoulder with a room full of strangers.

Jim sat on a stool by the table and checked us all off his guest list as we arrived, and a friend dished up cassoulet-de-canard and salad. People filed past and picked up plates and then melted back into the crowd to find a place to stand. It was a crazy fun event. We met several interesting people. We all decided we could easily live in a corner of Paris like this.

Rick's oldest son Farid arrives from San Francisco this morning, so I will have a very busy week to report on next post.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Week 38: Spring in the Air

A long allée at the Garden of Villandry

The branches may still be bare, but something is changing...all of a sudden there are more birds in the trees, gossiping and bickering, talking of spring. The sun played hide and seek this week, but when it revealed itself, it did so gloriously. We went out of doors occasionally without even a sweater. One day we didn't turn the heat on until late in the afternoon and the fireplaces were left unlit for several evenings in a row. We notice the days lengthening and the angle of the sun is a little higher. The sunrise is further east along the horizon. One can begin to dream of warm days, although Jonathan, always the realist, told me not to put away my coat just yet. This moment of the year is very unpredictable and conventional wisdom has it that a hard frost can not be deemed impossible until well into May.

We had a busy and fun week. Wendy and Margot, two lovely Australian artists who stayed with us the first year we were in business, came to do some etching in the studio. They are spending their summer vacation wintering in France! Wendy is a graphic designer, Margot an editor. They are both experienced printmakers, so pleasant in every way to be around. I find it extremely refreshing to have other artists in the studio to work with elbow to elbow. It's convivial and inspirational to my own process. Wendy is working on a series of small drawings, details of our village and etching them on tiny plates which she will assemble in various configurations. Margot brought a piece of linoleum she has had for over a year. She is already working on her third image. They stay on through the middle of next week so I will post the results of their efforts on my next blog if I receive their permissions.

Rick prepares some small plates for Wendy. He has become an expert at cutting copper.

Margot inks up her first lino print.

Pulling her first print - an image of Sam the cat, who stayed behind in Australia.

Since their sojourn at Maison Conti is relatively long, a week and a half, they felt they had time to take one of Rick's tours of the area. They chose the most spectacular day and their desired destination was the Garden of Villandry. Margot, who is an avid gardener, had seen photos of it many times in gardening books. Of course, it being winter, the garden was really in its low season. No flowers, no vegetables, but the bare bone beauty of the formal garden structure was visible and evocative. Besides, the grounds were virtually devoid of other visitors.

Villandry is the last remaining Renaissance Château formal garden, once so popular, the style fell out of fashion and is, of course, a great deal of effort to maintain. It needs constant attention to keep its rigid shape. It invites contemplation and quiet reflection.

The little yellow violets fluttered in the wind, not quite filling the lovely large pot.

The stone statue of a favorite dog has a comic air, although I doubt it was intentional.

Pollarded trees make charming shadows on the empty paths. The vista, up into the forest is spectacular.

When we visited Villandry in September this area seemed like a memory from a dream I once had.

Ah, sweet symmetry!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Week 37: Tours of the Area

One of the many ornate flower arrangements at Chenonceau

This week brought us a returning client, Mina, from Atlanta. She has a business creating and selling gluten-free products. Her production facility is in Paris, so she travels to France a few times a year. We first met her in September. We have some mutual friends, and she had just heard about Maison Conti from them. We enjoyed her very much so were enthusiastic to hear that she would be returning and wanted to begin her trip to France with four days here. She also booked Rick's tour services for two days, which gives me the opportunity to blog about some beautiful locations not far from us, Chartres Cathedral and the castle of Chenonceau. I have Rick to thank for taking the photos this week.

Chartres Cathedral is, in my opinion, the most beautiful and spiritual in France. I am not alone in this evaluation. It does cast a spell over people if they're open to it. There is a wonderful video about the history of the place and the construction of the building called Sacred Geometry. It's a fascinating subject. The spot where the cathedral currently stands was already sacred to the pagans who built an altar there thousands of years ago. The first Christian church was constructed in about 900 and burned to the ground in 1194. The townspeople felt that a miracle had been performed by the virgin when it was discovered that her tunic, which was a priceless relic the church possessed, was completely undamaged in the fire. They felt that the fire was a direct command by the virgin to rebuild and create a much more worthy edifice in her honor. People of all stations, classes, professions and ages hauled stones to the spot and, elbow to elbow, built a new structure in a remarkably short time. That kind of cooperation could be thought of as a miracle in itself!

An American choir exiting the front of the church. Chartres remains a very popular pilgrimage spot.

The pillars of the church are carved with elongated figures. This was a unique style in its time.

The quality of the stone carvings is extraordinary.

Most of the population of the time was illiterate. Stained glass windows were their books.

Here are the signs of the zodiac. Astrology was not separate from religion in the Middle Ages.

The atmosphere is calm and meditative. People light their candles and say their prayers

Chartres is an easy drive from Maison Conti. The castle of Chenonceau is a bit further but well worth the trouble. Of course the Loire Valley was the capital of the kings of France during the Renaissance, so many spectacular castles, both large and small, were built during that time. It was the epoch when castles were no longer stormed and destroyed. The Hundred Years War was over and there was relative calm in the land, so castles could be built with grace and charm, rather than as defensive bunkers. Chenonceau is certainly the best example of this kind of structure. It is the most popular spot in the valley and for very good reason. Many women influenced the decoration of this castle, as it was inhabited by wives and mistresses of the kings of France. It is a relatively small château and still has some of the original furnishing. It's a jewel, but during the high season, difficult to appreciate for all the tourists that flock there by the busload. What a wonderful experience, then, to visit on a sunny February day and have the place practically to one's self!

The entrance to the grounds of the castle.

Pretty as a picture. I've never seen it without crowds.

The beautiful doorway beckons you to enter this magical space.

In winter the fireplaces are aglow with huge logs. The tapestries add warmth.

Ornate tile work has been worn out by feet. You see only traces of the originals around edges of rooms.

Rose bedroom

Black bedroom, created by a queen who mourned the death of her husband.

Mina descending the stone staircase.

Some of the furniture is priceless, including this inlaid chest.

This stove was installed during WWI when Chenonceau became a hospital for wounded soldiers.

The famous gallery that spans the Cher River.

View from the gallery window. The river flows under a bridge which supports the room.

I asked Rick especially to take photos of the flower arrangements which grace the rooms at Chenonceau throughout the year. It's impressive that even in winter the bouquets are so extravagant.

The week coming up is a busy one for clients. Two lovely women from Australia arrive today to do some etching with me for 9 days. Other clients fill other rooms as well, so this winter is turning out to be much more lively than last.