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.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Memories, Dreams and Maps at the Maison

Our high season ended with a most extraordinary burst of creative energy at Maison Conti. Gail Rieke was in residence for two weeks, offering her workshop Terrain: Inner & Outer Maps/Charts/Journals. We had a group of four ladies the first week and six the second, with a weekend in between. It was busy and exciting, giving me, I'm quite sure, the fuel needed to take me through the long cold months of winter, with more than enough inspiration to keep me busy.

The women who came were an eclectic bunch of free spirits, gifted artists, dreamers and very productive individuals. 

Gail, from Santa Fe, is a internationally respected collage/book/installation artist. It is difficult to define her art or personality in a few words. Her method as a teacher/guide is also almost unique in my experience. She seeks to inspire and then draw out of you your own creative response to the spark she offers.

In the first week our group was exclusively from the U.S. Michelle is a South African artist who now lives in San Diego.

Leslie is a graphic artist living in New York City.

Linda, Leslie's mother, is from Taos, New Mexico

Gayle also lives in Taos. Both are very clever collage artists, and of course good friends.

The second group was a little more international. Gwenola is my dear friend Françoise's middle daughter. She lives west of us in Redon and is a photography restorer.

Carrol is from Albuquerque where she has just recently settled down and Sydney has just moved to British Columbia from Eastern Canada. She is a committed "dragon boater" and does an enviable bit of traveling.

Celeste is Portuguese, born in Mozambique, and now living in Madrid. She is a very talented painter.

Karen is a weaver living in Los Angeles.

Nelly lives in Paris and teaches art in Blois.

All these women are interesting, open, ready to go and contributed immensely to the atmosphere of fun and creative stimulation! What a privilege it was for us to host them. I even got to take part in the first week's activities.

We had breakfasts together then went into the studio in the morning. Each day Gail presented a different guided activity, idea, encouragement, incentive. We then worked in silence as everyone responded in their own personal way. At the end of the morning we discussed our results with one another. The combination of quiet and sharing suited my own rhythm very well indeed. We had lunch together and then spent the afternoon as we liked, working further on projects, exploring the neighborhood or sketching out ideas in our journals. At dinner we played games, talked and laughed a lot.

The first project we did was a memory map and it was inspired by a book by Warja Honegger-Lavater. She is a Swiss artist who created accordion fold fairy tale books using symbols or pictograms rather than illustrations to tell the stories. Gail brought us Little Red Riding Hood. The idea was to illustrate a memory from our childhood using only symbols which we would invent and manipulate to recreate our recollections on paper. I found this idea thrilling and Warja's book amazing.

Gwenola's memory map in progress:

Nelly's memory map completed. A walk to school.

Sydney's memory map as conceived in her journal:

I loved watching how differently people work and I very much appreciated finding a few new ways to sketch out my own ideas.

Our second project involved mapping a part or the whole of our bodies. During the first week several people traced their entire form onto a large piece of butcher paper. During the second week no one chose to do that.

Leslie traced her body onto sheet of paper and then cut it out. We all loved the way that made it flop around and curl up in interesting ways. She illustrated her insides with clever drawings and very amusing annotations.

Linda's body map was a beautiful detail of her hands and arms. It reminded me of a Tibetan art work, although the symbols were certainly entirely western.

Gayle used her body map as an entire autobiography, with profound meaning for her, which she generously shared.

Michelle's body map was full of fun, personal experience and whimsical questions.

Nelly's body map in progress:

Karen's body map focused on the senses.

Carrol's body map was a beautifully created collage, with strips of maps as veins.

Celeste's body map was a clever representation of some of the places her feet have taken her.

Gwenola's body map focused on her vision and eyes.

The final project which Gail offered us was a dream map. We were encouraged to think of a game board as a kind of map and to try to remember a significant dream we have had and turn it into a game.  The juxtaposition of these kinds of elements which Gail threw out to us were very enlivening.

Nelly's game:

Gwenola's game:

Carrol's game:

Celeste's game:

Karen's game:

Notes for my game, which I really hope to work on this winter:

Of course the discussions we had about all our ideas were a very integral part of the experience but unfortunately can not be recreated in a short blog post. I suppose that next time you will just have to attend yourself! And it is true we are already talking of next times. This short but intense few days together brought us all much more than is easily explained. I think we all felt that we had participated in something quite special.

Gail's husband Zack (and a few other husbands as well), participated in some of our meals. Zack himself is a wonderful abstract artist. Rick and I enjoyed talking to him very much. It was a jolly, magical time and I must say the house seems very quiet to me this week.

Gail worked on her own French journals while she was here, seeing magic and mystery in bits of ephemera she picked up along the way. She certainly knows how to see the world as a place of beauty and possibility. Thank you for sharing your happy vision and creative spirit with us Gail!

And thank you for sharing some of your photos too. Some of the images in this post were taken by Gail, some by me. I've lost track of which are which!