Monday, October 31, 2011


Call it Halloween or The Day of the Dead if you prefer. Here in France it's called Toussaint and the emphasis is less on candy and costumes but more on graves and flowers. The history of this fall celebration is ancient indeed, going at least as far back as the Middle Ages, and probably much further still. It is the time of the year to honor the departed and many French people visit the burial sites of their ancestors, cleaning the graves and decorating them with flowers. Of course All Saints Day is on the first of November,  while Halloween is celebrated on the last day of October. The roots are the same but they have evolved with slightly different flavors from country to country.

In the States children don't even get one day off from school for this particular holiday, while here in France it's a two week school break! Apparently Toussaint is one of the most celebrated days of the French calendar. The trick-or-treat thing hasn't really caught on here, but there are lots of family celebrations and get-togethers to mark the occasion. We have an overflow of clients this weekend, with 11 breakfasts served this morning and Montmirail in general is hopping today. Houses that are often shuttered are flung wide open. Everyone has come to town and holiday-makers are bustling past my window as I write this.

We had our own family celebration earlier in the week. Quinn and Emily came to town and stayed with us for several days as Quinn's school is closed. On the day before his break he had his first Halloween school party and made his first pumpkin face.

Quinn likes to visit because we have the Brio trains. This is something which can occupy him for a very long time and he is becoming more and more skilled at putting the track together and building his bridges and tunnels. Under the radiator is called the garage. This time I showed him how the magnets only work in one direction when putting the cars together and he was very gratified to discover the mystery behind that. He had not yet understood why the trains sometimes attached and sometimes just wouldn't.

I've been awaiting the time when Quinn would have enough patience and dexterity to do some art projects with me. He isn't three until the end of January, and until only very recently he wasn't very interested in painting or projects that take a certain amount of concentrated focus. The influence of school was certainly clear to me this time, however, as his abilities have taken a quantum leap. I had an idea to allow him to cut out little animal shapes with some air-drying clay I have and then paint them after they had dried. I was amazed at how interested and skilled he was in this.

I loved his results and he was very pleased with them himself. We wrapped them up and put them inside a tiny gold box which he took home to his papa who had stayed behind in Paris to rehearse his up-coming show. (If any of my blog friends live in New York, you will have a great opportunity to see Jos in a marvelous Peter Brook production of Fragments by Samuel Beckett during the entire month of November.)

It is the end of the fall season here and the weather is definitely nippy, but often the sky is crystal blue anyway. The leaves have fallen from the Lime trees in front of the house and Quinn enjoyed the time honored fun of running through the pile.

We took a nice walk in the sun, saw some donkeys and played with shadows.

I also pulled out a set of books I've had since Emily and James were children. It is one of my favorites, The Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak, four gratifyingly silly stories with charming illustrations.

It is also only recently that Quinn will actually sit and listen all the way through a story, without wanting to turn the pages. It was such a beautiful day, we sat outside for story time.

Another great discovery Quinn made was toppling a line of dominoes.He wanted to do it over and over again.


In the studio this week I finished one little print I'm calling Living in the Country. Currently I'm working on the companion Living in the City.


La Ferté-Bernard was showing its fall colors all around the lake. I did a little PhotoShop manipulation on these two and I liked the results.

Speaking of this type of photo transformation, the first time I saw the dramatic color changes that people with an iPhone app called Instagram could do with a simple point and click was on Pia Jane Bijerk's very cool blog. I was completely enchanted. Since then, however, I've seen it everywhere and of course the more it's used, the more tiresome it becomes. At least for me. The two photos above were actually created in fall 2010 when I first discovered this technique. I don't have a fancy cell phone and don't own one single phone app, but I did discover that these same tricks can be downloaded as free actions for Photoshop. If you'd like to try them, they're simple as pie to use. Just load them into your actions folder and play them. It's fully automatic. Here's where I got mine, but you can find many sources on the internet.

This photo I took this week and I like most everything about it. The clouds are just right, the texture of the old wooden gate is in crisp focus and the soft landscape spied between the slats is nicely colored.

With one of the Photoshop actions (Lomo) it becomes much more saturated. I leave you to judge which photo is more interesting.

And this one. It is a little hard to discount the richness the color saturation can give to an ordinary shot. But since it's totally automatic, I feel it's a bit like cheating. Still, it can have its uses. All things in moderation.

Here's a photo from this week that needed no manipulation whatsoever. The low winter sun, just past sunrise was bathing the castle and Mairie behind our house with a rich golden glow. The lowering stormy sky in dark blue added a bit of moodiness.


  1. Hi Nancy! I found this post very interesting. It was good to hear a little European "toussaint" history.
    In Australia there is no Halloween tradition. We have All Saints, but being such a secular society it isn't celebrated in any way generally. This past 5-10 years there has been an attempt to rally interest in an American-style Halloween, mostly to get people to buy costumes etc. I'm very opposed as it makes no sense here - it's not one of our traditions and especially as it is Spring! Celebrating All Saints Day I could possibly see, but really we have our own things to celebrate. The big one at this time of year is the Melbourne Cup, a horse race run over 2 miles. It's the first Tuesday in November, and in fact, I was born on a Melbourne Cup Day!

    Thanks also for the PS actions. I like the idea of being able to use those effects on better photographs than my phone can take, and as only a part of the processing I do.
    Best Wishes,A.

  2. wow does Little Mr. Quinn remind me of James!!