Friday, March 29, 2013

California, Part 1: Sausalito

 Belvedere Island in the San Francisco Bay

Two weeks ago I left behind a snowstorm and plunging temperatures at home in France and flew to San Francisco. My favorite time of year in the Bay Area has always been the spring, which over there starts very early. The hills were still green, the temperatures were just right and the sky a bright blue.  While over much of the rest of the hemisphere it is chilly and the trees are still barren, in Northern California flowers are beginning to bloom and people are pulling on their shorts and sandals.

 Beautiful flowering hedge on the wharf in Sausalito

I spent my time with friends and family and took many photos, so I will blog about my trip over several weeks. I am back at home again, after a really lovely time. Here we are still having the most severe spring in 50 years. We have a roaring fire going downstairs to ward off the chill. No gardening is possible as yet.

My adorable little sister Liz sent me a plane ticket for my birthday. We hadn't seen each other for seven years! I spent a lot of time with her and her girlfriend Rene at their beautiful house in Sebastopol.  The first day I was there she took me on a drive to Sausalito to visit my good friend Amy.

Me and my sister

Sausalito is a wonderful first impression for a California visit. It's a bit like a dream. For one thing, it's one of the most expensive places to live in the whole world. It is also one of the most beautiful locations, right up there with Portofino or Monaco. A wonderful place to visit, but I'll never be able to live there!

San Francisco as seen across the bay from Sausalito

Amy, on the other hand, is fortunate enough to have inherited an art studio right on the water. Her husband's step-father, Walter Kuhlman, was an important and prolific San Francisco artist. You may not have heard of him, since like so many other artists, he was not good at self-promotion. Amy, who has devoted the last five years to promoting and selling the enormous collection of paintings and prints he left behind in his fantastic Sausalito studio, has insured his legacy and introduced him to collectors all over the world. His reputation is safe in her very competent hands. I have, of course, heard about Walter from Amy for years and seen some of his work in person, but I had never been to the studio. It was a huge treat for me.

Amy in the studio

Walter was an Abstract Expressionist who went through several creative phases in his very productive artistic life. The painting below is one of my favorites, not from his abstract period. It is called Tiger Tiger, inspired by William Blake's poem.  Even as a small reproduction (this is a very large painting), one can see what a master of color the artist was. This painting is owned by a Sausalito politician, and it hangs in her house. Lucky laldy!

Tiger Tiger, burning bright

I was somewhat blown away by the range and number of the works of art in the studio, especially since Amy has sold most of them already and many are in galleries in New York and San Francisco.

My sister and Rene were gobsmacked as well. We had such a pleasant time looking through the many monotypes there. I was definitely inspired and motivated.


After a very delicious lunch on the Bay at a restaurant called Fish, we were pleased to discover that Amy had an appointment to deliver a painting to one of her Sausalito clients who lives in a Victorian house in the hills. She invited us to come along and we jumped at the chance.

For one thing the views from these homes in the hills above the Bay are breathtaking. For another, the opportunity to see inside one of these glamorous homes is a rare treat indeed. Besides which, this particular client owns at least twenty-five of Walter's works as well as several other extraordinary works of art. It was the opportunity to see a lot of great art in situ.

Amy's client was generous enough to allow us to walk through her entire place, which really is like an art gallery, and view all the paintings and prints she has purchased from Amy and others.

After we descended back into town, we took a walk along the wharf, had a cup of coffee at a pleasant sidewalk cafe and then bid farewell. What a wonderful first day!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The details

Rick does some last minute rose pruning

When I ask myself each week "what is my blog subject going to be?" the answer generally comes easily. We often have some kind of an event, a visit, a project or an adventure, which makes it simple to choose a weekly theme. This week we had an outing planned, which would surely have been a worthy subject, but in the end, mostly due to a few days of unexpected rain, we cancelled our plans and stayed at home. While casting about for an alternative focus, it struck me that I could share with you some detail views of our life, the house, our environment. These close up images sustain me from day to day. I am a very visual person who can be stopped in her tracks by a shaft of sunlight, the colors of shadows, forms and textures that surround me. With that in mind, on a bright sunny day, I took my camera in hand and began pointing it here and there. These are the results.

Morning always begins with two cups of coffee, taken on the couch. Rick supplies the brew from his trusty old Italian espresso machine, la Contessa. The timing depends upon who else is in the house. The morning light is magical and changes dramatically with the season.

Do you notice shadows? Watching them is one of my favorite pastimes. Shadows are always good news. They mean the sun is shining!

Early spring sunlight bathes the couch where I take my coffee.

Passing the yellow room, I noticed a streak of light illuminating the bed. The sun is all of a sudden becoming so much stronger.

The front of the house faces east, so all the rooms on that side are sunlit in the morning. The dining room, since our redecoration of last fall, has become one of my favorite rooms.

I still like the shabby/chic Annie Sloan paint job. We have not exactly finished this room, as I haven't yet painted the baseboards. Notice I don't offer any photo of those here.

It has been noted that the walls are painted to look a lot like Wedgewood. I inherited an entire collection from my mother.

Old plates decorate the wall.

Spring flowers are on offer. It's either daffodils or tulips. Both seem to last very well in a vase of water kept refreshed.

When the sun shines in through the doors, which on warm days stay open, I am constantly delighted by the colors.

Sunlight on the sheers in the studio creates beautiful shadows.

Layers of doors.

Patio furniture with a winter patina, not yet scrubbed for the season.

Afternoon in the courtyard, the sun is on its way to the back side of the house.

On a drive into town, we had some dramatic cloud displays.

Winter hedges, not yet leafed out, but thinking hard about it.

La Ferté-Bernard is our closest large town, where we go once a week for groceries and other errands. It's a pretty old place built before the Middle Ages.

The rustic wooden carvings that decorate some of the buildings are very old.

The church is impressive. This was an important center in bygone days.

There is a kind of stone lettering, invented first by Leonardo de Vinci for François I, the king of France who was his patron at the end of his life. Our church here has one of the best examples in France of this technique.

Today I leave for a two week visit to California, where I haven't been for 7 years. My lovely family has sent me a ticket as a birthday present. The blog will therefore go silent for a short while, but when I return I'll have photos to share from a completely different part of the world.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Here, there and almost anywhere

A potato heart

February is the longest month of the year. Well, at least for me. I don't care how many days it has, it just seems like too many. With March comes that feeling that spring might actually arrive after all, and gray skies disappear. What a difference a blue sky can make! The sun, in all its feebleness, does its level best to lure you outside and, sure enough, a walk in the woods reveals pleasant sights, smells and chirpy bird activity.

Where is the camera when I need it? Yesterday, in the middle of the forest pathway, we came upon a cat and rooster in serious conversation while 4 hens looked and clucked on. The cat, who seemed to be dreaming unreasonable dreams, scampered away when we approached. Mr. Rooster, who didn't seem the least perturbed, strutted on down the track with a shake of his handsome red comb while his lady friends scurried a few steps behind. I'm not sure his leadership would prove to be above question. He headed deeper into the forest, and further away from whatever coop they had escaped from. Perhaps he had overheard the farmer's wife discussing Sunday dinner. Maybe he was leading the great escape. Whatever it was, I intend to look for eggs on the side of the trail next time we head down there.


We have recently been trading visits with the family in Paris. First they came here, then we went there. Emily, when she is not acting/directing, cooking or entertaining her children, does a great deal of sewing. She tells me its because it's so "easy to do." Not for me! She went with her good friend Alex to a huge trade fair  in Paris and came back with lots of beautiful fabrics, mostly to make clothing for Quinn, Zinnie and their friends.

All these lovely whimsical designs were made in Japan.

While at the Maison Conti, she began several projects making children's clothing. This is her way of relaxing! Hmmm.

It was fun to see the atelier turned into a sewing room. The big table makes a wonderful cutting surface. Emily gets most of her patterns on line.

She brought her own sewing machine, which is a good thing, since my own is an ancient Singer, able to sew a straight line (sometimes) and that's about all. She has a nice new and fancy machine.

Zinnie, wearing pants her mother made several months ago, acted as helper.

I found it incredible that Emily was making pajamas for Quinn. It seemed like so much work. But I have to admit they are absolutely adorable.

Quinn, the monkey boy, was very proud of them.


Emily and Jos' show opened at the Bouffes du Nord in Paris at the end of February. This is a stunningly beautiful space. We came along to help with the childcare, as the performances ran every evening for ten days. We couldn't stay the whole time, but we did stay for several days. Rick was at the opening, and since he was a member of the team, even got to take a bow on stage at the end of the performance.

I can hardly resist going to my favorite art store when we get to town, and this time I really did have something I needed to purchase. It's an easy ride on the metro from Emily's place to the Louvre. This time of year the crowds are much smaller than in warmer months. That makes for a pleasant visit.

The metro lets out on the right bank, by the Pyramid courtyard. A short stroll through the Tuileries and the grand carved entrance that leads into the park takes you to the river and the Pont du Carrousel. From the bridge you see the Musée d'Orsay and the Grand Palais in the distance. The wintery colors are mellow and muted. The Pont Royal, built in 1685, evokes old Paris, as of course do all the buildings around the river here. I never get tired of these views.

On the left bank one finds the most extravagant antique stores with magnificent treasures in the windows. I wouldn't dare go in to one of these shops, but I do like "licking the windows," the expression the French use for window shopping.

Visiting the ever-busy Sennelier is always a sensual pleasure. It was an hour and a half round trip to purchase a single pen, but the pleasure of the errand was in the scenery along the way.


The children gave us an iPad for Christmas this year, which we have been warming up to slowly. We're both rather Luddite at heart, and anything that is called "a device" is to be looked upon with some suspicion in my eyes. We live very happily without a smart phone and we actually enjoy being out of range from time to time. This week, however, all that bravado was undermined when James introduced me to a brand new game available in the app store. It's called Year Walk, and it is positively addictive.

It's based on a Swedish practice from the Middle ages. What writing there is was authored by a celebrated Swedish scholar who is an expert on Swedish myth and folklore. The game has no stated rules or even goal. There are absolutely no directions. One just starts out swiping around the screen and from time to time things happen. You become aware that there are riddles and puzzles to solve and once you stumble into a new level, you're so delighted with yourself.

It is beautifully created and illustrated, and I highly recommend it. If you think computer games are a waste of time, you can listen to this TED talk and get an entirely different perspective: