Thursday, December 29, 2011

Medieval French Village

This post continues my travelogue of our spring trip to France.

We took the train north to Compiegne where I’d signed up to rent a car and drive to Saint Jean. I was not confident about driving a car tinier than a Mini Cooper, with a stick shift, on skinny cobblestone roads, directed by signs in a foreign language. I was right to be nervous because it was hard. Again looking very sitcom-like, I white-knuckled the wheel and talked too fast, begging Annabelle to try and help me read the signs and not miss our turns. I arrived in Saint Jean most pleased to get out the car, and would, over the next the next few days find as many reasons and ways to stay out of the car as possible.

Saint Jean aux Boix is a very small medieval village with mostly gray stone houses with shutters, a very old and beautiful cathedral, and a couple restaurants. There were no new buildings to mar its preciousness. The town is one stop on a driving tour around that area of France, so during our stay there we witnessed many tourists walking around. It seemed the favorite attractions were the medieval cathedral (next door to our home) and the neighbor’s chicken coop (across the street from our home.) Our friends’ home was elegant and simple, and we applauded ourselves and our friends for the idea of resting there after Paris before returning to America. We had a couple days to play peasant folk.

We walked leisurely around the village, ate a Salade Nicoise at the local café, and slept the rest of the day away. The days in Saint Jean were the only part of our trip in which we were incommunicado. No Scott Skypes to end our days. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

RIP Helen Frankenthaler

Here is a link to some images and info about Helen Frankenthaler, who died today. Probably my favorite abstract expressionist painter, she is one of the icons of 20th century art. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Annual Cookie Party

I interrupt my regularly scheduled Paris trip installment to show some images of yesterday's annual cookie decorating party at my friend, Anne LaPlante's house. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Last Day in Paris

Continued from previous blog posts. For photos, I included some highlights from our Paris stay. When I find my misplaced images of Notre Dame gargoyles and such, I'll post them.

Our last day in Paris was wrought with indecision about which of the very many attractions we were going to miss. We’d known we couldn’t see it all, and today was the day of reckoning. Annabelle insisted we go back to Notre Dame to sketch, and to climb the tower. So we did, and got to sit in a front pew of the Cathedral, sketching for hours. The mobs of tourists didn’t get in the way because we were drawing architectural details way up in the arches. I’m not sure our drawings were first rate, but they are definitely some of the most sentimental work in our sketchbooks because of the memories attached. Afterwards we got in line (very short, thanks to Rick Steves timing suggestions) and climbed a windy, steep stone staircase to the top of Notre Dame. We looked out over the city, inches from the famous gargoyles, a cold wind much more biting than down below. We climbed the tower and took photos next to Quasimodo’s big bell. I took a fanatical amount of photos of the architectural details, marveling at the intricacy, imagination, and weirdness of Violet le-Duc’s vision. I love that guy! The freezing wind sent us back down the 400 stairs to the bottom, where Annabelle spent some of her favorite moments of the trip feeding and petting a huge flock of ravenous pigeons.

Rick Steves recommends many restaurants in Paris, and so far we had not eaten at one of them. We’d surely wanted to, but we’d not been in the right place at the right time to pull it off. On our last day in town we were determined to try at least one Ricknik restaurant. (This is a real term for Rick Steves’ fans, I swear.) Isle Saint Louis is just across the river from Notre Dame, and is reported to be one of the more exclusive neighborhoods in the city. We threw a few coins to a violin player dutifully playing La Vie en Rose as we crossed the bridge into elegant Saint Louis, getting close to hoping we’d never hear that song again.

The restaurant was warm, cozy, and quaint, with a collection of tiny antique doll chairs covering the walls. I don’t think there is such a thing as quick service in Paris, but the owner/cook/waitress was amicable. Annabelle had her first foie gras, and I had escargot, and both were out of this world. Rick had led us to probably our best meal in Paris, although we hadn’t tried very hard to seek out the finest eats around. Getting to and from the attractions was focus enough; figuring the best restaurants into our plan would have been too much for me (and my budget, perhaps.) We’d managed to eat traditional French meals almost the whole trip, usually at a not-outrageous cost. And even with Crème Brulee, Steak Tartar, and various charcuterie on the menu we didn’t gain weight because of the excessive amount of walking. (When I say “not-outrageous” I mean that we probably averaged $15 per person per meal. I don’t call that cheap, but it’s not the $800 for lunch that one can spend in Paris.)

After lunch we pronounced ourselves plum full of Paris attractions. We longed for an off-the-beaten path place to relax on our last day, so we went to the Jardin de Plantes, or Botanical Gardens. It was not recommended by any of the tour guides, so we figured it must not be full of tourists. It wasn’t. Since it was March, most of the plants were underground. The place just wasn’t as spectacular as Paris’s historical sites, but we did get our break from tourists for the afternoon. As we left the park we sneakily slipped into a McDonalds to see how it differed from the ones back home. Most items seemed the same, but the dessert menu was full of French stuff like Chocolate Mousse and Tartes. I tried the mousse and it wasn’t bad! We liked how the trashcans said, “Merci” and how the customers were just as chic-looking as the ones at fashionable cafes.

After our taste of America (however Frenchified) Annabelle declared her need to do something else non-French. Our hotel’s neighborhood has a multi-plex theater, and we’d been walking by it daily seeing the posters for all the American movies with French titles. So after a freshen-up at the hotel we lined up to see “The Fighter.” When I got to the ticket lady and stated the movie name in proper English she corrected me and said something like “Le Feetay.” The theatre was not stadium seating or surround sound or digital screen or clean. Just a regular movie experience like, say, in 1975. “The Fighter” was really good, but depicted a demographic of America that could be termed as trashy. I hoped the foreign movie-goers didn’t think we all were like that. The French subtitles didn’t use nearly as many curse words as the English script was putting out, which was fun to take note of.

And so ended our last night in Paris. We packed as much as we could, in preparation for three days in a little village north of the city called Saint Jean aux Bois. Some friends of ours own a home there, and had generously invited us to stay there even though they are at home in America.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Day at Versailles

Continued from previous Paris blog posts.

We had no intention of being tired for our next day, an excursion to Versailles, the palace of the 18th century French kings, described by most as the most spectacular in Europe. We rose early, followed Rick Steve’s detailed train and entrance instructions to the letter, and as he promised, were the first tourists in the palace, and waited in no lines. My trip to the palace 30 years before was quite an abbreviated version of what was in store for us this time. Most of the palace was closed then, so all I remember was the gardens.

Anyway, Annabelle and I scurried through room after opulent room, snapping photos, oohing and aahing, pointing out one overwhelmingly breathtaking detail after another. That crazy Louis! We kept pondering what would impel someone to make something so outrageous. He apparently spent one half of the gross national product of France to build it. How could we keep from saying anything but OMG?! In these sorts of places I always imagine the painters and artisans who got to work on the project and wonder how they were treated, whether they got some artistic leeway, if they were paid well, what they thought of the results. And I try to get Louis or whatever super-rich bastard funded the deal out of my mind so I can appreciate the vision of loveliness (or power, or might) that the artists worked to create.

We refused to walk more than necessary that day, even if our energy was up from the day before. We took trains through the gardens to see the smaller outlying attractions, mostly built for Marie Antionette when she got BORED (hello!) with Versailles. Her Petite Trianon and little hamlet were interesting, and mostly brought to the imagination how darn rich those outrageous people were. We had lunch and dinner in quaint restaurants in the village of Versailles, and were glad to experience the very friendly people of small-town France. All told, we ended up walking way more than our legs wanted to, and by evening we were snoozing soundly on the train back to Paris. Again, right at 10:00 we arrived for our nightly Skype, with tales of the glories of Louis and Marie. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Slow Day in Paris

My story continues from previous blog posts. All photos came out bad from this day in Paris, so enjoy this image from Versailles, a preview of the blog to come.

We were duds the next day. We drug ourselves out of bed at 9:00, knowing we’d missed our golden opportunity to miss long lines at the Musee d”Orsay. We didn’t care. We’d known all along that there might be a day where we’d be too tuckered out to race around, so we decided to take this one slow. Most days we navigated the Metro with expert skill, but this day we got lost twice. Had to get off and find new circuitous routes to get us back on track. In our meanderings we passed one musician after another playing La Vie en Rose, hoping for a coin or two. Sitting and staring doesn’t take much energy, so our longer rides didn’t upset us much.

Because we didn’t arrive at opening, the lines at the Musee d’Orsay were the longest we’d encountered on the trip, but they still weren’t bad. We had our special Paris Pass which helped. The bad news was that this museum of 19th century art (a heaping helping of the most famous paintings of all time) was under renovation, and all the artwork of four fours was crammed onto the bottom two floors. So we saw magnificent masterpieces packed edge to edge in little hallways with a mob of people mashed together trying to squeeze by and see. The good news is that a couple months earlier, Annabelle and I had traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, USA to see a good sampling of the Musee d’Orsay collection. The exhibit traveled to only two places in the United States, specifically because the Paris museum was being refurbished. I’m happy to say we’d already seen a good bit of some of the best work in much better conditions. And it’s a good thing because we were just overloaded!
Most of the time we crowded ourselves onto the populated benches in the galleries and closed our eyes, trying to rest between paintings. But, in spite of all the crowds and tiredness, I did have a spiritual interaction with a painting that I’ll never forget.

There are a few times in my life when seeing a painting changed everything for me. At several of the world’s greatest museums I’ve had monumental moments at the sight of a painting that brought me to tears. Not just misty eyes, but continuous, uncontrollable sobbing. The Van Goghs at the National did it. A Daumier in Los Angeles, a Raphael in Pasadena, an Ingre at the High in Atlanta; all moved me so deeply I lost myself and my surroundings. Well, this happened in Nashville when I saw the Musee d’Orsay collection and walked into the room to see “Whistler’s Mother.” For an hour and half I stared at the piece, one of the most famous paintings of all time, memorizing its every detail and rejoicing in its every nuance. A painting’s fame rarely affects my opinion of it, and usually if it’s terrifically famous, I’m overloaded on the image and can’t appreciate it as much. But this superstar captured me from first glance, a great surprise, since I’d never been much taken by its reproductions. Every choice made by the artist was unpredictable. Delicate, lacelike details contrasted with strong, blocky, abstract forms. Japanese influenced patterns and design against Puritan American stoicism.  Just enough color to suggest a human form with a luscious palette of grays to make the color stand out. One of the most deliberately abstract pieces of its time with unapologetic and very obvious human realism. It was brilliant.

I watched the American visitors in Nashville scratch their heads, wondering why this painting was so famous. Very few people stopped to admire it more than a few seconds. So, at the d’Orsay in Paris, I was delighted to get to observe the reaction of foreigners. What a unique opportunity! I’d no idea when I saw the piece in Nashville that I’d get to be a fly on the wall in two countries across the world from each other, and get to see what people thought about a single famous painting. The reaction in France was the same. Basically, no matter where in the world the viewer came from, they were bewildered as to why the painting was so famous. A quick glance was all most people gave it. I was secretly delighted that the general public was so ignorant (or just different from me) because it gave me easier access to the piece for longer periods of time.

We finally decided we’d just better go back to the hotel and take a nap. I could barely believe that I was surrounded by some of my favorite paintings on planet Earth and I just couldn’t see them. At that moment, a nap sounded a million times better.

Back at the hotel, we snoozed for a few hours, then watched TV for another hour. The biggest curiosity about French TV was the mandatory disclaimer on every junk food commercials that said you should be eating your fruits and vegetables. Good for France! We noticed many American movies and TV shows dubbed in French, which was fun to watch for a little while. After all that resting, we knew we were still in no shape to be active, so we opted for the lazy tourist adventure, the Bateau Mouche, a boat tour on the Seine River through the city. Our tour company started at the base of the Eiffel Tower (to which we were delighted to return) and floated its way down the Seine with an earphone tour guide option. We nodded off most of the way, and a large group of Asians in front of us did the same. We weren’t the only worn-out tourists in Paris. We caught snippets about Parisian history as the guide pointed to the backsides of old buildings or to the undersides of old bridges. We could hear faint accordions here and there on the banks playing La Vie en Rose. The sun set as we arrived back at the Eiffel tower, and we were perfectly pleased with our languid day. We ate some high-priced mediocre food at a floating restaurant just under the Eiffel, satisfied enough with the world’s best view not to complain about the meal. Our right-on-time 10:00 Skype call with Scott back at the hotel rounded it all out nicely. 

Friday, December 9, 2011


Anselm Kiefer

...continued from previous blog posts

Feeling sufficiently rested (or so we thought) we decided to take a walk from Place de la Bastille to the Pompidou Center through the Marais. Rick Steves’ guidebook had a nice little walking tour suggested, and we eagerly followed it to the letter. We started at a bench outside the new Opera House where a delicious looking Frenchman pointed us on our way. We’d heard that the Marais is quite hip, and it is. All Parisians are very chic, but this area is a bit trendier, rowdier, and gayer than we’d seen elsewhere. The neighborhood had skinny, cobblestone streets with a variety of architectural styles, like the postcard of France one might expect. Stores sold gourmet teas, Japanese stuff of all varieties, scarves, modern furniture. Pedestrians wore more leather, scarily high heels, and wild scarves than in other neighborhoods. I felt like a frumpy white-bread American.

We ended up at the Centre Pompidou at 5:00, hungry and tired, but insistent on seeing the whole darn thing whether we like it or not. That’s the thing about coming half way around the world to go to places you’ve wanted to see your whole life. Exhausted, thirsty or starved, freezing or roasting, with sore feet or numb hands…you will make yourself take it in, if just to say OK, I saw it! We ate a radically expensive snack at the little café, drank some colorful sodas, and massaged our poor feet as much as time would allow. Then we soldiered on up the big plastic escalator.

 Juan Miro

The Pomidou has changed since I saw it 30 years ago. It still looks modern, but it’s getting a little tired. The transparent bubble that surrounds the outdoor escalator is scratched and worn, so the overviews of the city are a little hazy. It’s good for watching the wild and disorderly groups of performers, spectators, and possible ne’er do wells that congregate on the grounds below. We made our way to the top level and planned on working our way down.

I gave my brief summation of modern art to Annabelle as we passed the simple, usually colorful, abstract work throughout the galleries. No matter how hard I try to get her to appreciate modern art, she still scratches her head. I don’t care if she likes it, I just want her to accept its validity and understand where the artists are coming from. She still resists, so I at least make sure she’s exposed to it; she can now say she’s seen it. We rather hurried through the rooms because of our tiredness and because Annabelle seemed pretty bored. Unless I’m imagining it, the museum seems poorly watched over and in need of a little sprucing-up. There were scuffs on the walls, and to my absolute horror, a tourist family was rubbing their hands all over a Picasso. No guard was in sight, and I would have yelled at them if I’d known what language they spoke.

 Phillippe Guston

By the time we left the Pompidou we were dead-dog tired. All we wanted was some dinner, pronto! We wandered a little ways back into the Marais and found an adorable little café open. It was 7:00, which is an early hour for the French. The interior had rough stone walls, candlelit small tables, soft accordion music, and a wall of wine behind the bar. Our waiter was typically slow but very friendly, even by our standards. We had four courses of yummalicious food, but could barely keep our eyes open. The jet-lag, marathon distance walking, and jaw-dropping sightseeing had finally taken its toll. We shuffled out at 9:00, complaining about being stuffed and brain-dead.

Sigmar Polke

Somehow, like every evening of our trip, we walked in the door of our hotel room at a couple minutes before 10:00, just in time for our nightly Skype call with my husband, Scott. We never meant to time it so perfectly, but we always managed to get there just in time. Our calls were hilarious because the visuals were always jumbled or ill-timed with our voices. Scott frequently looked like a computerized monster, and Scott said we looked frozen and jerky, but we did get some quality trans-Atlantic communication for free. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

More Paris

Our second day in Paris was reserved for the Louvre. Annabelle’s and my life are largely devoted to art, so we shuddered with glee as we ate our patisserie breakfast in a little park near our hotel. (A note about breakfast. I am allergic to wheat and Annabelle to dairy, so we had a miserable time with the continental offerings everywhere in Paris. Annabelle had to eat plain bread to avoid the butter that is in every single tart, croissant and pastry there, and I had to order the one thing that had a non-wheat ingredient: flan pie. But I had to throw away the crust. We probably missed out on a zillion calories and should be thankful, but it was not easy in the least.)

Our first goal at the Louvre was to avoid the lines, and did we ever! Rick Steves told us secrets that got us in before anyone. Our next goal was to get to the Mona Lisa first. We didn’t want to have to stand in a crush of humanity while looking at the world’s most beloved painting. So, when the doors opened and we got through security, we sprinted like the dickens to get to her. Down corridors, through atriums, past the towering Winged Victory, up and down massive staircases, we followed the hundred signs that pointed to Mona. In that huge place with miles upon miles of art, there is no corner that doesn’t have a sign that points to her. We slowed down when we passed guards, panting and laughing, knowing full well they knew what we were up to. As we skidded into the room where she hung we exulted in our victory; we were there first! We ended up having a full four minutes with her alone. A stern guard whose job it was to watch solely over her looked not the least bit impressed by our triumph. I’m sure there are clowns (probably Americans) who sprint to see her first everyday. We got dozens of pictures of us standing in front of her, and as you can see, we were really missing the point that this lovely work of art was actually waiting to be LOOKED AT.

But her glory was lost on us. Like everyone, we’ve seen her face reproduced a thousand times in our life. Seeing her 15 feet away and behind glass was no better a view than if it were in a newspaper. We knew it was the real thing, and that was something, but there was no way to connect with the “handprint” of Leonardo from that distance. Still, we had quite a thrill just knowing we were looking at probably the most famous object on Earth.

Our next goal was to get at least a glance at art history’s greatest hits. We knew this would mean racing by famous and glorious art to see the most famous and glorious art.  I was an art history major in college and had given Annabelle a crash course in French art history from 1700 to 1900 before we traveled. We knew our task was monumental, but our must-see list seemed do-able.

When we found the painting we’d set out for, we’d stand dumbfounded for a few minutes, trying to soak up every brushstroke. We’d discuss its merit and point out new insights about composition, color, or just plain aura that we’d not seen in reproductions. Some pieces were slightly disappointing in that the real thing didn’t speak much louder than its phony counterparts. Either way, it was fascinating. Then, after a couple allotted short moments we were racing off to find the next wing of the museum which held more of our short-listed masterpieces.

What we didn’t know about he Louvre is that the whole darn building is a work of art that rivals any painting or sculpture that it contains.  The moulding, the views out the windows, the ceilings and stairs and alcoves….just breathtaking in its baroque grandeur. With all my art history background I could categorize its ornamental and stately style, but I tried not to intellectualize it like that. I just basked in the feel of it: a massive and regal salute to my favorite thing, art.

There were a few times we collapsed on benches or even in the stairwell from exhaustion. We’d walked nearly 10 miles the day before and couldn’t even begin to clock the many miles we were getting in this day. But each time we’d snuggle up close to Ingre or Vermeer or Durer or David we’d renew our devotion to making sure we saw as much as possible. Eventually we decided we’d seen our very top favorites and would have to rest or die. We ate in the cafeteria, then sat against the wall in a huge atrium filled with classical marble sculptures of naked Greeks, and we sketched all afternoon. Sunshine filtered through the overhead skylight and made splendid shadows on our subjects. A lovelier place to take an artist break will not be found anywhere. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Paris, continued...

My second installment of my Paris trip story from spring break of this year.

After seeing tourist lines out the door and down the street, we declined a visit to Saint Chapelle Cathedral, which is right across from Notre Dame and claiming some of the most spectacular stained glass windows in Christendom. We heard on the Rick Steves website that there was scaffolding covering much of the inside view anyway, so we instead hopped next door and took a gander through the Conciergerie, the famous prison where Marie Antoinette was held captive before her Reign of Terror beheading. The main room of the interior was quite lovely and mysterious with its dramatically-lit rows of arches. Throughout the rest of the building were mostly small hallways, small cells, and very thick walls. The grand highlight was Ms. Antoinette’s small and dingy cell, complete with dusty furniture and a dusty mannequin representing the fallen dauphine herself.

On our way to the Arch de Triumph we stopped at the old Opera House to find it closed. We took photos of the naked and lovely statues that adorn the exterior, which, along with some cuddling pigeons, made for some of my best pics of the trip.

As we arrived at the The Arch de Triumph our afternoon sleepiness was setting in.  We were seriously tired! We remembered Rick’s admonitions and soldiered on, trying to trust that this agony would pay off in more energy at the right times. Climbing the million winding stairs to the top of the Arch certainly woke us up, and the staggering views and fresh air at the top couldn’t help but revive us. Some sweet tourists from South America exchanged photo-takes with us, all of us trying to get a famous monument in the background vista.

Looking over the city, I found the sameness of the architecture interesting. I didn’t realize that the gray stone buildings cover the city all the way out to the outer arrondisements. Seeing it from above brought to life all the stuff I’d read about Baron von Haussman’s 19th century plan to make the city militarily easier to defend, etc. (For more about all that juicy stuff read Rick Steves’ guidebooks.) I love, love, love history and seeing it come alive by being where it all happened? Priceless.

After buying some excellent postcards at the A de T bookstore, we Strolled down the Champs Elysee. (Isn’t that what one must do? Stroll, with a capital S?) There were well-dressed tourists from the world over, and no one smiled. We live in the American South, where fanatical friendliness is, well, required. It was hard to feel like we were having fun when everyone seemed so grouchy. I realize Paris is a big city, and culturally different, and if had dinner with them, most people wouldn’t be so cold. But we just weren’t used to it, and got tired of looking at sour faces and fancy stores that really looked a lot like the ones in America anyway.

We had bought advance tickets online to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower at a certain time and we didn’t want to be late, so we hopped the Metro again. (The only thing Rick Steves got wrong about our trip was the number of Metro tickets we would use. His estimate was much lower than the amount we used, probably because we stayed in a hotel on the outskirts.) Anyway, we arrived there an hour earlier than our tickets were scheduled for, so we sat down and sketched. There is no better way to really connect with a person, place, or thing than to draw it. I have a lot more respect for Monsieur Eiffel after drawing every little cross beam from the first level to the ground below. Sheesh! I also read the story of the monument to Annabelle, which made us respect that amazing fella even more. (Read Rick’s guidebook!)

March is not the busiest tourist time in Paris, but the Eiffel Tower attracts a heck of a lot of people no matter what. This is where we saw the most Americans on our trip. They were easy to spot. They are pretty much the most un-cool people there, but I don’t mean in a bad way. They just don’t have the cosmopolitan look of the rest of the world. Even when they try to dress in black and wear scarves and sassy boots they still have this corn-fed, Maybelline-wearing, football-watching look about them. I probably do, too.

We took elevators up at our allotted time, rejoicing that we still had not waited in lines, as I had so perfectly planned. We heard a few fellow Americans say “Rick Steves says…” and Annabelle and I nudged each other and smiled. Just as the sun was setting we wandered the top level, watching the lights of Paris come on. I said Happy Birthday to Annabelle about 50 times and she said Thanks about 50 times back. It was just spectacular. It’s one of those times where you can’t believe it’s really happening. The Eiffel Tower has a unique mystique about it, being the most popular monument in the world in the most visited tourist city in the world. We were there, and we just kept saying “We’re here.”

Hunger sent us down again, and as we walked away from the Tower across the great lawn we looked back every few seconds, taking it in, trying to make it last forever. It will. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Spring in Paris

My daughter, Annabelle, and I went to Paris for spring break this year. I’ve had a whirlwind schedule since then, and never got to post a proper blog about our fantastic trip. So here it is, broken down into several posts over the following week. 

The last time I went to Paris I was 17. My mom sent me with a school tour, and in the spirit of mothers-giving-daughters-trips-to-Paris, I promised Annabelle when she was 5 that I would take her there someday. Now that she’s 16 I decided I better honor my words before she’s off on her own. She’d been taking French for two years, and a few serendipitous things fell into place to make it possible to get there.

I planned zealously for months before we left: researching art history and French politics, finding out what people were wearing there (in March), planning how we’d avoid lines at the attractions, and boning up on my French. The magical, miraculous, wonderful genius Rick Steves from Public Television was my European Guru before and during the trip. I packed precisely what and how he suggested, and planned all of our doings around his ideas.

We flew from Atlanta to Heathrow on British Air, and felt quite continental before we even left the ground on hearing the accents of the airline staff. By the time we got to Paris we were ridiculously tired, and nervously figured out how to maneuver our way to our hotel from Charles de Gaulle airport. The train signs were in French, for God’s sake! We sleepily held our heads up on the train to the city, while a gorgeous young man in a scarf played La Vie in Rose on his accordion for tips.

Our hotel was in the 13th arrondisement, off the beaten path enough to be inexpensive and in a tourist-free area. Rick Steves had warned us that the imperative rule for adjusting to a time zone overseas is to make yourself stay awake until the proper bedtime by going outside in the fresh air and doing something. It was only 5:00 pm and we were on the bed ready to pass out. We drowsily nudged each other to get up, but after ten minutes of nudging each other we both fell sound asleep.

We woke at 2:00 am, wide-awake and rearing to go. Darn it! We stayed in bed and talked until the sun came up, and then began the busiest day of our trip. It was Annabelle’s 16th birthday, and the day had been planned around her request to go to Mass at Notre Dame in the morning and watch the sunset from the top of the Eiffel Tower that evening. After breakfast at a local patisserie we hurried off and became instantly at ease with the Metro system. We learned quickly that an integral part of the Metro experience is the enjoyment of all kinds of musicians who play La Vie en Rose at Metro stations and stops.

We headed first for the Left Bank. We strolled by the old haunts of artsy bohemes from days-gone-by, peeked into Saint Michel, the oldest Cathedral in Paris, and ended up at Saint Sulpice Cathedral (home of one of the most famous church organs in Europe) for early Mass. The average age of the congregation was 105 (and no tourists to be seen) so we looked quite out of place. But it gave us time to acclimate ourselves to the smells and atmosphere we’d encounter for days to come; the musty, dimly-lit, highly ornamental world of ancient buildings. It was glorious, culturally shocking, and made us feel far from home.

We landed next at Notre Dame just as its Sunday Mass was beginning. Hordes of tourists from everywhere on the planet (except USA, it seemed) were mashing into the place, and this wasn’t even the high season. I’d not remembered it to be so crowded that last time I was there, exactly 30 years ago. Annabelle fell in love with every inch of it, declaring it her favorite place already. She’d watched Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame 10 times in preparation for the trip, and the real thing didn’t disappoint. We were especially enamored with the acres of ornamental stone carvings and vowed to come back another day to sketch. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Lorna Meaden, 2012 ALCC Featured Artist

Colorado potter, Lorna Meaden is one of the featured artists at the 2012 Alabama Clay Conference. 
Here is a quick description about her career and work:

With her elegant and sensuous vessels, Lorna Meaden puts her own spin on historical ornamentation and celebrates the practical use of everyday, utilitarian objects. “Handmade pots are potent in their power to reveal the extraordinary, within the ordinary,” she says. She contrasts elements of extravagant embellishment with a rough-hewn, home-spun, sensibility. One of America’s most popular potters, Meaden exhibits in galleries and museums nationwide. She has been a resident at the most prestigious art instruction centers in the country, and currently resides in Durango, Colorado where she calls herself a studio potter.

Inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement of the nineteenth century, Meaden honors the handmade useful object as a valuable entity and a sacred tradition. She spurns the modern proclivity to assign worth based on convenience rather than authenticity and uniqueness, revering instead the intimate connection fostered in handmade items—between the user of the piece and the artisan who made it.  If handmade work is a luxury in today’s world, Meaden’s use of adornment on her work extends the idea of extravagance. Yet while her forms are playfully suggestive of Baroque and Rococo grandeur, her use of material remains in the dominion of old-fashioned folk pottery. Rather than using delicate white porcelain with shiny luster embellishments, her materials retain the bulky, neutral-glazed solidity that give her work the delightful balance between the fancy and the uncomplicated.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

ALCC Featured Artist: Sergei Isupov

Sergei Isupov is one of the featured artists to demonstrate and exhibit at the 
2012 Alabama Clay Conference in February. 

A short description of his work and career:

Sergei Isupov, one of the world’s most famous and loved ceramic artists, has been thrilling viewers for decades with this meticulous, surreal, figurative sculpture.  Born in the Ukraine, Isupov studied art at universities in Kiev and Estonia before emigrating to the United States in the early 1980s. His work is in museum collections around the globe, and he lectures and gives workshops world-wide. Isupov now resides in Massachusets, and is represented by Ferrin Gallery.

Isupov’s sculptures display an uninhibited celebration of imagination, human relationship, personal mythology, and freeform narrative. Painted images of the human form drape over, wrap around, meld with, and become a part of the surface of the sculpture, which is itself in the shape of a human form. The layered imagery is ripe with layers of meaning, conveying human pathos, tenderness, ambiguity, and humor. With jaw-dropping attention to detail, his work plays with themes of raw sexuality and the playful and delicate connections in all kinds of human relationships. His methods are meticulous but have nothing to do with realism. His forms and style are relegated to the odd and colorful world of dreams and memory. His means of communication are non-apologetic and arresting, and convey an intimate, personal and dramatic display of what could best be described as enthusiasm.