Sunday, April 29, 2012

Here and There

We almost always have something amazing to look at out our window, day or night and in all seasons.

I bring you a brief photo tour of our recent days here in France. There has been much busy bustling about, getting our house ready for the season, including some small repairs and major improvements and opening our little boutique. I have been preparing for several art exhibitions as well, printing, framing, packing and shipping off images. The days and nights go slipping past. Yet there is always time for the photo-moment and I include some of my results for you here:

Montmirail as seen through the safflower fields from the south-east, coming back from a visit to the nursery.

The fleeting glory of our clematis. I love these pink blooms.

A glimpse through the hall windows of wisteria which decorates the front of the house this time of year. This is a favored hangout for birds of every size and shape. We had to evict the morning dove that wanted to build its nest here. They're far too sloppy in their house-keeping. Last year their eggs tumbled one by one onto the terrace, just into our doorway.

I have a weakness for flowering pink trees. This one is probably about a century old.

The Montmirail castle is for sale, should you be in the market. After 300 years, the family has came to a point where none of the next generation wants to make their home in the ancestral château. We're hoping for it to become a Michlein-starred restaurant. One can always dream on.

Some images of Blois, one of the prettiest and noblest of the royal towns along the Loire.

The castle, on the right, is richly decorated and was designed, in part, by Leonardo da Vinci.

As you cross the Loire River and enter Amboise, you get this fine view of its milky white castle.

The weather here has not been brilliant. There are moments when the sun comes out from behind its dark clouds, but more often the whole sky turns gray and rain pours down in giant buckets full. Although I do long for sunnier days, I can take some pleasure from the joy the farmers have from this deluge. They prefer rain to almost any other kind of weather, so I am happy someone else can be content with the drear.

On a more personal note, I have spent a great deal of time in Paris taking care of grandchildren. They are delightful and entertaining companions. Here is Zinnie in the glowing dusk.

Quinn and I uncovered his sandbox for the first time this year, in between rain showers. We had lots of fun making lakes and roads and burying small dinosaurs.

He did his Charlie Chaplin imitation for me. His father has taught him a few hat tricks as well.

Our friends Renata and Jonathan were married in Alençon yesterday. It was my one and only successful matchmaking venture. I introduced them a couple of years ago. In fact they met over our dining room table at the Maison Conti. It wouldn't be hyperbole to say that it was love at first sight.

Rick and I were asked to be their witnesses.  The ceremony was held at the city hall and none of us expected it to be much more than an administrative formality. There are literally dozens of weddings here every Saturday, one right after the other. Yet the mayor was such a charming guy and he had gone to enough trouble to find out something about this couple (whom he'd never met) and delivered a little address that was so heartfelt, I was weeping like a baby.

Rick presented a beautiful talk too, all in French, and I think the whole room must have been weeping then. Here is the lovely (and very short) mayor, with his official French sash, giving Rick his whole-hearted support and encouragement. The Frenchies love the American accent as well as we love the French one. Rick got lots of compliments.

Next time I see you here, I hope to be talking of warm sunny days and relating lots of gardening news. None of that is in the forecast any time real soon.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Lavardin: The Church of Saint-Genest

Saint Thibault and Saint Maur

We see our friend David almost every time he comes to France, which can be several times a year. He owns a house in Brittany and we often go there to visit, especially when the weather is fine and we have a hankering to be by the seaside. (You can stare out from there and imagine glimpsing New York, just across the waters.) This trip, however, we talked him into visiting us, since we weren't able to get away.

David hadn't been to La Loire Valley for years and had never visited Le Loir. We spent a pleasant day heading south and stopping at both rivers for a tour of a few of our favorite spots. This post is devoted entirely to our first destination, the charming plus beau village of Lavardin, with it's 11th century church and colorful 12th-15th century frescoes.

Christ in majesty

There are several churches in our area with lovely fresco work on the walls, but the Church of Saint-Genest in Lavardin is the standout example. This kind of decoration was very popular in the late Middle Ages, but fell out of favor after the Renaissance. The walls of these ornately decorated churches were often painted over in white lime.

Scenes of the Passion

It has been like a treasure hunt during the last hundred years to patiently chip away the lime and discover the historical images beneath. The restoration of Saint-Genest was long and painstaking.

Right arcade

For the congregation that first enjoyed these images, they were as books, Biblical stories to read and inspire.


Many of the columns seem purely decorative, but even the foliage had symbolic meaning.

floral and foliage decoration

The oldest paintings are on the walls of the church. They depict the life of Christ and his apostles.

Acanthus leaf column decoration and scenes from the life of Christ

The colors are sunny and the imagery naive, charming and full of feeling and pathos.

Madonna and child

Later, in the 15th century, the age of chivalry, new images and colors were added to the columns, highlighting some of the more recent saints and people of relevance to that time and place. The style is a bit more realistic.

Saint Genest and Saint Liboire, bishop of Tours

Blue is introduced. And text appears.

Presumably painted in the 15th century

The main stories are still Biblical and center upon Christ and his followers and, of course, the Madonna,

Madonna nursing Jesus (rarely depicted)

but knights, bishops and people alive at the time were woven into the religious stories, to keep it all current.

Possibly Saint Ambrose, bishop of Milan

If the frescoes were done correctly, they could last almost indefinitely. The pigment, made of ground earth, was applied while the lime was still wet and upon drying a chemical reaction occurred basically binding the stone with the color.

Fleur de Lys, representing the kings of France

However if the images were instead painted on top of dry lime, they were much more fragile and easily chipped away.

Even so, I found these little fragments (added fully 300 years after the wall frescoes) to be as beautiful abstract art. Time has had its happy way with the colors.

The charming village of Lavardin, with its ancient red tile roofs, nestles into a emerald green valley, where the Loir River bubbles past. There is nothing within miles to spoil its idyllic nature. It's a quick trip from Maison Conti to enjoy this gem.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Some Signs of Spring

Wisteria buds beginning to open just outside our windows.

Moody skies, showers, sun, more showers.

Yellow fields of safflower, punctuated by red earth, plowed in neat rows.

Patchwork colors as seen from out our upstairs window.

Ancient gnarled trees covered in pink blossoms.

The sun encouraging bare branches to bring forth their colors.

Delicate new leaves appearing first as an apricot color.

Happy moist grass on the castle/farm down the road.

Curious cows, duck pond reflecting stone farm building.

Clouds with personality.
Our village on the hill in morning mist.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Busy as Bees

View of Montmirail from the west

Our season is more or less in full swing. With the gorgeous spring weather we've been having, city-weary Parisians are out early, looking for that pleasant weekend in the countryside. We've had more reservations and last minute walk-in clients than ever before in early spring. Generally, Easter is when our phones begin to ring, but the process has been accelerated this year.

I will barely have time to finish my painting work before next weekend, when we are completely full. I am still painting trim whenever I can find a few minutes.

I'm liking the freshness and sunny sherbet quality of the colors.

Work continues on the garden, the zine, setting up the boutique and printing new images. I wrote a blog post about my deeply etched printing technique for Printsy (Printmakers of Etsy) if you are interested, you can read it here. Along with all that, we are in the process of making a birth announcement for Zinnie. I made a little print and Rick is setting type. We have a few fonts which we can set up to letterpress in the old-fashioned way. It makes such a nice contrast to the computer, where text can be banged out in seconds but all the sensuality of handset letters is lost.

One sets the type backwards one letter at a time, adding spaces and punctuation and then locks the final page into a frame, using "furniture" (wood or metal of various sizes) to hold the type tightly in place.

We print on a tiny Kelsey press that works like a charm, but is limited in size to pages no bigger than 8 X 10."

The ink is distributed on the round disk which swivels around. The paper to be printed is placed on the bed. When the handle is pulled, the rollers ascend to the disk, where they are covered in ink, they then roll over the type, which is locked in behind them. The paper is pressed onto the letters as the rollers move out of the way.

We made a quick trip to Paris for one night between clients. We hadn't seen the the family for several weeks. Zinne is growing like a little sprout and beginning to engage more with her world and flash her sweet smile at the faces that swim before her. She is really looking at us now. I loved this photo Jos took of her, even if she is sound asleep. She reminds me so much of her mother.

Quinn is doing so well in school and with his new sister. He's very affectionate with her and seems to get a big kick out of the little things she does. He told me how funny she is.

I was enchanted with these real flamenco dancing shoes that Emily's friend Jofre sent from Barcelona. It's hard to picture Zinnie in them, but then she does have a ways to grow before they will actually fit. I wonder if Catalonian children take their first steps in high heels?