Saturday, December 21, 2013

'Tis the season to be jolly

I'm one of those people who adores Christmas. Even as I race around trying to meet all the extra demands – the gathering of appropriate gifts, decorating, cooking, cleaning, card writing – I am suffused with a feeling of well-being and happiness. I become an optimist. I try to remember all the good things that happened to me during the year and everyone who contributed to making my life feel richer.

I enjoy making gifts for friends and family. It is the one time of year that is all set up for expressing our gratitude for all the many blessings of living on this planet, in this funny old world of ours. Why not ride the wave of joy and thanksgiving? In thinking how I could express my gratitude to you, my blog followers, I thought of a gift I could give you, which will hopefully inspire you to whimsy, playfulness, beauty and fun. My favorite YouTube video of the year:


Happy Holidays to all!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Costa del Sol

Church of Mijas, with the sun setting over the Mediterranean in the distance

We spent a wonderful week in southern Spain, visiting our friend Mariann. She lives in the adorable old town of Mijas, high up the rocky mountain above the Costa del Sol, between Málaga and Marbella. We met Mariann when she came to Maison Conti to do some etching in our studio. She later came back and Rick taught her how to do photogravure. It has now been four years since she invited us to come down and see her part of the world. In the interim she has bought two  houses, completely refurbished them, and opened a print making school, This fall she just finished organizing her little Casita Carmella as a guest house and asked us if we would like to be her first "guinea pig" guests.

Mariann and Rick in the local restaurant on the evening we arrived in Mijas
The week that we were free to go coincided with the week Mariann was busy preparing for an exhibition at Alfajar in Málaga. We were able to help her in various ways as she raced around her studio, printing, framing, pricing and cataloging.

Casa Rol, Mariann's house and studio in Mijas

The weather was pleasant all week and the working environment pretty spectacular! The view from Mariann's top terrace is panoramic. Mijas is known as the white village. It is kept sparklingly clean. This is an extremely agreeable place to spend time, particularly in November, when back home people are bundled up in thick coats and fleece lined boots.

The view from Mariann's terrace

Mariann's studio is very beautifully and practically set up. I really enjoy watching other printmakers at their craft. I learn so much, as we all do things quite differently.

Mariann's studio

Mariann has always impressed me with her focus and energy for her art. She has also created several beautiful spaces in her adopted home on the Costa del Sol (she is Danish).

Mariann's studio and print room at Casa Rol

Her latest project was the transformation of a little house named Casita Carmela a few minutes walk from her home. She has fixed this lovely little place up to be a vacation rental. This is where Rick and I stayed. After spending a week here, I can highly recommend it as a destination!

Interior of Casita Carmela

 I must say that the highlight of every day was the sunrise. The terrace of the house looks out to the sea, and at this time of year the sun both rises and sets over the Mediterranean. I took photographs every day as the spectacles were different and glorious each morning.

sunrise 1

sunrise 2

sunrise 3

sunrise 4

You get the idea!

Sunset was not too bad either. Although we could not see the sun dip below the horizon from our vantage point, we could see the wash of color painted on the cliffs. From Mijas one looks out to Gibraltar and Morocco, both of which are visible from many vista points.

sunset coloring the cliffs

 The Costa del Sol is a very crowded place, as you probably know. There are acres of modern condos lining almost the entire coast. From the vantage point of Mijas, it is much more interesting than the close up ground level view.

view to the Costa del Sol from Mijas

It seemed a great privilege to begin each day bathed in light. At home temperatures were close to freezing.

Rick basking in morning sun

Mijas itself is a very charming and ancient town. I suppose that nowadays its main industry is tourism, but not more than a century ago it was a town which had been supplying very important products to international markets as far back as Roman times. Olive oil, rope and baskets, honey.

Mijas' museum of local history

Like Montmirail, where we live in France, Mijas is without modern shopping malls or other such blights on the landscape. Unlike Montmirail, however, it is really a hopping place with rather a lot of restaurants to choose from, lots of little touristy shops and many places for visitors to stay. We were certainly not the only travelers visiting Mijas in mid-November.

Mijas point of interest: ancient chapel

 Mijas is very well maintained. There are a couple of parks which offer panoramic views.

Mijas park

And the famous donkey taxis which were implemented in the 1970s when local workers discovered they could make more money hauling tourists than straw.

Donkey Taxi  

There were a couple of days when Mariann was not in need of our help in the studio, and we took the opportunity to visit a few places nearby. Our first adventure was to the very beautiful and historic town of Ronda. The last and only other time we had been in Andalusia, we were with our friends Barbara and Craig. That was almost ten years ago. We remembered Ronda so fondly because of the very enjoyable time we had there with them. We wanted to repeat the experience.

One of the amazing bridges of Ronda and a view from the bridge

Ronda sits high above a picturesque valley. The palm trees and grand colonnaded buildings give it a glamorous and romantic air. I couldn't describe it better than Rainer Maria Rilke:

The spectacle of this city, sitting on the bulk of two rocks rent asunder by a pickaxe and separated by the narrow, deep gorge of the river, corresponds very well to the image of that city revealed in dreams. The spectacle of this city is indescribable and around it lies a spacious valley with cultivated plots of land, holly and olive groves. And there in the distance, as if it had recovered all its strength, the pure mountains rise, range after range, forming the most splendid background.

Hotel in Ronda

The Islamic influence on the architecture of Andalusia is one of my favorite things about this part of the world. During the middle ages, when northern Europe was deep into its dark ages, southern Spain was in the midst of a flowering of culture and religious tolerance not really experienced since.

museum in Ronda

We had a typical Spanish lunch in a pretty restaurant in Ronda and spent the entire afternoon wandering through town.

Ronda restaurant

On another free day we went to Marbella, one of the most popular spots on the Costa del Sol.  The historic old town is charming, but definitely geared towards tourists.

street in Marbella

To my mind, the best thing about the town was the Museum of Contemporary Printmaking. There you can see original prints by Picasso, Miró and Dalí, as well as many lesser known but equally wonderful Spanish artists.
streets of Marbella

I was much more impressed with Málaga. As usual, we had to get to the historic center of this large and sprawling city to find the gold. I was quite impressed with its architecture, historical sites, ambiance, restaurants and museum. I could have spent a lot more time there. Málaga is the birth place of Picasso and they have a museum dedicated to his work. It is marvelously informative, with a wonderful video, lots of work from all of Picasso's oeuvre, a great bookstore and even ancient ruins from Phoenician times in the basement of the building. A beautiful etching press that Picasso used was also on display.

Cathedral in Málaga

We enjoyed the grand plazas and beautiful buildings.

pedestrian Plaza in Málaga

We met up with Mariann and a few of her friends for a drink at an attractive café and afterwards migrated further down the street for some tapas.

El Jardin Restaurant

We then helped celebrate the opening of Mariann's exhibition in a beautiful shop just across from the cathedral. What a great location.

Mariann greets visitors to the opening of her exhibition at Alfajar

And then it was time to come home. Luckily we still had a little sun left of this side of Europe, and I have been enjoying some beautiful sunrises right from my own windows, but no question about it, southern Spain is a marvelous place to be, especially in November!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Week in Pictures

 For me, this is the most poignant time of the year, leaves turning mellow colors, so lovely, so temporary, just before they fall. Our weather has alternated between sunny days, warm, achingly beautiful, to gray cold days, anticipating the coming season. 

We took a wonderful walk one day in La Ferté-Bernard around the lake. The sun filtered through the yellow-green branches. Glowing.

It was the first time we had followed this path all the way around. At the mid point we came to a spot where the lake flows into the river.

The view of the castle out our back window is at its best this time of year. The grounds, which are only partially visible from our vantage, are kept in classic, formal shapes but the added color in fall adds charm, especially when the sun begins to set.

As always at this time of year, I begin to get the itch to redecorate, take on some house projects, make changes and improvements. Last year I painted out part of the wall fresco, which tames the little sitting room a lot. We reupholstered the chairs and couch as well. This year I have only rearranged pictures on the wall, changed light fixtures and added another couch. My bigger projects are yet to commence. Our clients have not completely stopped coming yet, so big messy painting projects will wait for winter.

We have, in fact, had some really wonderful clients during these quieter days. We count ourselves very lucky to have met so many interesting people through our bed and breakfast. We so often are regaled with interesting stories in several languages. Some of the people we meet become our friends.

We had the opportunity to go to Le Mans one day, to do a few errands, and catch a movie.

I took this photo of the back of Le Mans cathedral from a moving car. I used one of my new Photoshop actions to turn it into a post card from days long past. The building itself, of course really hasn't changed in hundreds of years.

My favorite new Photoshop action package is called Pioneer Girl. It offers several filters that, especially when experimented with, and used together, create effects that seem rather magical.

We have also had more time for local friends. We have shared dinners with our closest neighbors, Anne and Christine twice in the last week, and had coffee with Renata.

There is much more time in the studio as well. I am preparing my Etsy shop for the Christmas holiday by organizing my work and being sure the store is well-stocked.

And I have been following the inspiration I took from Gail's class to create some cosmic map-like imagery. These have been a great deal of fun to create. This one is called Worlds Within Worlds, and is available on Etsy.

Next week we leave for Paris for a few days to help with the grandchildren. Emily is off to Russia with the Peter Brook touring production of The Magic Flute. She is assistant director. She has seen a lot of the world this fall! Then we are off to Andalusia ourselves for a week with my friend Mariann.  (One of those wonderful former clients who crossed the line!) Come back for that report the last week of the month!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Autumn adventures in and out of Paris

Our high season is over, leaving us time for more personal endeavors and pleasures. Last week we invited Quinn to stay with us. It was his first time being here without his parents. Emily is traveling around Europe with Peter Brook's Magic Flute as assistant director, and Jos is working in Paris. Quinn has two weeks vacation from school. He spent the first one with us.

We began the week with a visit to Disneyland Paris, something we were all very excited to experience. Euro Disney, as it is also called, was opened in 1992. It was not at all an instant success, but over the years it has become much more popular.

The last time I was at Disneyland, in Southern California, my own children were rather small. I was anxious to see how the European version compared. 

Unfortunately the day itself was rather gray with intermittent downpours, some quite dramatic. The park is a fairly accurate copy of the original, I think, and the crowds were almost as big as they are in the States.

Some of the lines were ridiculously long. We were willing to wait fifteen minutes to get onto the merry-go-round, but the line for the Dumbo ride was almost an hour, and although it seemed desirable to experience this classic, in the end we let it go, after waiting at least twenty minutes.

After an eventful day at the park, where we all got quite worn out, we drove with Quinn back to Maison Conti. Here fall is definitely in the air.

Our week was filled with activities, which ranged from the artistic to the mechanical, both in and out of doors.

Quinn created a gelatin leaf print. It's such a great project for kids of all ages. I made quite a few myself to use as wrapping paper or cards or who knows what.

There was scarcely a minute that wasn't filled with some kind of fun. Quinn is at an age where almost anything is interesting to him and he is skilled in many ways.

Bobo led the more technical projects, which included making a corn cob sea plane and a periscope.

We found a corn field and borrowed a few ears of dried corn for our projects.

We also took a nice bike ride together in the nearby forest of Vibraye, where it is wild mushroom hunting season. The trees were in lovely golden colors and the paths were filled with people carrying baskets.

Quinn started out at age three with a wooden balance bike, but now rides a pedal bike without training wheels. He's coordinated and fast! I could hardly keep up with him.

His other favorite outdoor activity when visiting us is horseback riding. We spent two afternoons at the nearby stable, where he learned how to stand up on the horse and turn all the way around in the saddle.

We also spent an afternoon at the lake in La Ferté-Bernard , where fall is also in its glory.

 Quinn very much wanted to play in the sand at the shore of the lake and build a sand castle. We had a positively perfect day for this, with the sun shining and the temperature very mild.

I mostly sat on the sand and watched while the boys spent several hours creating their sand castle complex.

It began, of course, with the dam works and the moat building.

 Rick had brought all the appropriate buckets, shovels and rakes.

I was able to participate by gathering sticks, leaves and stones. Quinn was quite pleased with these materials, which served well for bridges and cannons.

Trees were planted, a garden was created, there was a grocery store and prison, along with several castles in the large compound. A pair of ducks came by and took a great deal of interest in the proceedings.

When we brought Quinn home at the weekend, we took the opportunity to ride into the center of Paris and do a few errands. We spent a very pleasant autumnal day in town.

Our errands took us from Place Saint Michel through the Latin Quarter, down the left bank, over to the Île de la Cité, onto the Île Saint Louis, and back up the right bank for lunch. The garden on the side of Notre Dame was full of people strolling and playing.

The sidewalk cafés were all full of people enjoying the day, which was fine and bright.

Paris is particularly lovely in the fall.

We passed a little garden near the Hôtel de Sens on the right bank which we had never noticed before. So charming and well maintained!

We ended at one of our favorite little quiet squares at the base of Village Saint Paul, near an old church.

We had a simple but pleasant lunch out of doors at L'Ébouillanté.