Thursday, December 24, 2009

a christmas story

Today, on Christmas Eve day late in the afternoon, we picked up a family member with his suitcases and shopping bags and a wine bottle or two. Traffic was surprisingly manageable, but we all agreed to stop anyway for dinner so we could just relax once home. We voted for the Cheesecake Factory and were happy that the wait for our table wasn't long.

My husband, already settled into our big commodious booth, was immediately approached by the waiter. "Do you see a camera? I've already checked the area, but the party before you, a group of six women, has misplaced a camera and still can't find it."

We all stood up again, checked under our coats and on the floor, looked behind the condiments, but couldn't see a camera. The waiter went off to report our unsuccessful search.

Hungry and in a holiday mood, we each proceeded to order our favorite appetizers, including roasted artichokes and avocado eggrolls in yummy greens. Strawberry martinis added the complementary red. Next the robust entrees, like my steak Diane, were all delicious and avidly tucked into, along with the appropriate wines.

We hadn't reached desserts yet when a woman appeared at our table. Apologizing for interrupting our meal, she started to explain about the still missing camera, new in its case and brought specifically to commemorate the special occasion. Was it possible that the camera could still be somewhere in the booth? Could she just look under the table again?

Did she know she was speaking to an art journaler whose family room has been taken over by supplies? Of course we understood. Photos are irreplaceable and not to be lightly shrugged off. We all knew this to be the truth. So we all stood up again and checked everywhere. But still no camera.

Then my youngest son decided to use his recently downloaded flashlight application on his iPhone to illuminate the darkness under the booth seats in one last sweep. On a recent hockey trip, he'd needed this app to finish reading Bonfire of the Vanities without disturbing his sleeping roommate. Apparently, the last 100+ pages had demanded to be read without delay.

Guess what? There, all the way back into the furthest recesses of the corner of the booth, barely discernible, was something small, flat, dark and irregular. Even with my husband's long legs and arms, it was hard to reach back there without actually crawling under the booth. While my son crouched to illuminate the darkness and give directions, my husband moved his arm accordingly further and further back until he touched it. Yes, the camera.

Everyone was delighted! The woman and I hugged as I wished her Merry Christmas with a big smile. She went off with her recovered treasure and a big smile. With renewed energy, we took up our dessert menus.

Then suddenly another interruption, as a man quickly approached our booth. "Thank you for finding the camera. Dinner's on us," he announced, and just as quickly disappeared. Soon our waiter came to confirm the news. Because we had made an adventure of the hunt, the happily relieved woman and her happily relieved husband had picked up our tab. For our whole dinner party. Jolly old Santa was surely chuckling happily, too.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

surprise auction on eBay

Last week, during our family Thanksgiving celebration, a friend in Germany emailed me some surprising news. He'd been involved in my painting years there and wanted to alert me. An old 1981 exhibition catalog from a group art show called "American Artists in Berlin" (Amerikanische Künstler in Berlin) was being auctioned on eBay. That show had featured 6 young American artists then living in Berlin, including Lynn Bowers, Jimmy Clark, Gary Rieveschl, John Schuetz, Christina Viera, and me. In the eBay bidding window was a two-page spread from the catalog, showing Jimmy Clark's pottery and one of my paintings (both a bit cut off).

Since my painting career preceded the internet access we so enjoy now, you'll realize what an unexpected glimpse this was to see a work of mine online from almost 30 years ago. My large paintings were very colorful, as were the works of the other artists included in the show. But the exhibition catalog, funded by the Amerika Haus in Berlin, was printed in black and white, an indicator of the expense of mounting shows before artists could help their own publicity using home printers and a free and expansive internet. The critical reviews were printed in both German and English, adding another expense.

I didn't bid on the catalog, but I should have. Although my own copy resides somewhere in my archives (I hope), my youngest son wishes he had known in time to buy this one. Although he had grown up in my peripatetic studio, nevertheless he had missed those early years of my career. Already it's hard to remember which of my paintings were in that Berlin show. The large painting shown on eBay was "Femme Nue." I think there was a huge painting called "Berlin Boogie." Another painting, "The Odd Couple," was purchased by the State Department. I hope my records show who bought the rest. I do remember how young I felt then, exhibiting next to Lynn who also had his New York studio, Gary who made vast Lifeforms following his Harvard/MIT studies, and Christina who was probably at RISD when I was there but had already exhibited in Greece, Great Britain, and Italy, while I, as a military wife, simply moved often.  :)

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

old photos

During the past couple months, I've been happily using my passport again. Even after all these years of traveling, it's still fun collecting the stamps to fill the pages with reminders of where I've been.  As I carefully replaced my passport in its special drawer today, awaiting its next opportunity,  I looked through some of my expired passports in their little pile.  In one passport, I'm pictured with a tired and none-too-happy infant in my arms.  Below is my passport photo from my early 30's, when I was on my way to live in the Middle East -- with three little kids.

The other photo is my younger brother's high school graduation photo. He became a nuclear engineer. We joke that I became a nuclear-family engineer. See the family resemblance?  

Monday, August 03, 2009

french pinks


This summer I've been taking both long and short trips and enjoying the beautiful scenery in quite a few places. But my next big trip, scheduled to start last Friday, then this Friday, has now been postponed again for a month. Good thing we had refundable plane tickets, because the flight to Bangkok is long and expensive. I have my fingers crossed that this third scheduling will stick, and that I'll have lots of photos to share with you from there.

Meanwhile, since I do have a huge stash of photos from the south of France, here are a few more cheery ones for today. I guess I will have to unpack my suitcase for now and see what there is to see around home.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

french lavender


. . . just outside the door, a bed of lavender and a canopy of grapes . . .


Thursday, July 23, 2009

walking to Montpezat


Our 6 km walk on Thursday to the medieval village of Montpezat-de-Quercy took us past fields of giant upright sunflowers turning their sea of faces to follow the sun. In the middle of the rolling sunny fields, French farmhouses drowsed, cooling behind their blue window shutters. We enjoyed another blue-sky day in a week of wonderful weather. The narrow country road wound about, with quite a bit of uphill, not so much downhill to compensate, and not much room for both us and the occasional passing car. Where trees lined the road, there were signs posted usually saying "reserved for deer hunting" (a highly-regarded rich-in-tradition French sport), but once I noticed a sign indicating an area reserved for truffle hunting.

Montpezat is a protected historic city, due primarily to its remaining 14th-century college and chapel, where the apse is filled with a long 16th-century tapestry relating the 13 temptations and miracles in the life of St Martin. The tapestry hangs unprotected except by the dark, so after depositing our 2 euros to turn on the dim lights, we were rewarded with a close-up view of the intricately woven designs and remarkably well-preserved colors. Our guide related the various temptations, pointing out the devil in many panels, along with the "scribe" who inserted himself often, too, identifiable in his black hat.

. . . taking photos of the chapel on the ramp down from the priest's home . . .

After a refreshing picnic in a small park next to the priest's house (the old priest is retiring and will be the last), we continued our weaving lesson with a visit to the village studio of a retired but still active weaver, Janine Dassonval. She is one of the last remaining practitioners of le basse lice or low-warp horizontal weaving in France. During her career, she told us, she collaborated with French artists like Jean Cocteau, Jean Lurçat, Commère et Volti to transform their paintings into tapestries. Three years older than I, sitting upright at her large floor loom which she warps and wefts herself, Mme Dassonval explained why it can take her over 2000 hours to hand weave and cross over the wool threads to blend a beautiful wall hanging, plus another 200 hours to tie off the loose threads on the back. Her current project is an Aubusson-style tapestry full of soft blues, greens, and earth tones, proceeding from a color enlargement and her drawn cartoon slipped under the threads for placement.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

woad wednesday at chateau dumas


On Wednesday we learned about woad, an ancient blue pigment taken laboriously from the leaves of a local plant. Before indigo changed the market, woad blue was the only blue dye available, the "blue blood" dye of the royals, making the medieval Counts of Toulouse wealthy men and Toulouse, the city they built, a center for dyeing textiles. Only the leaves of the first year's growth yield dye, which makes the plant a weed when it grows wild. After a lengthy extraction process, the dye first turns fabrics yellow, then green, then blue as it oxidizes with exposure to air, all of which made woad dyeing changeable and almost magical.

Dr Denise Lambert, our modern-day woad master, mixed up the woad dye bath in a clearing in Lizzie's woods early in the morning. Soon we were transforming our flea market finds, linen cloths, pieces of lace, hanks of yarn and even straw hats. With Denise's instruction, we all took turns dipping the fabric into the dye bath, poling it down into the vat, wringing it out and watching it turn its colors, then hanging it on the lines to dry. For a deeper blue, we repeated the process. The lines were filled and refilled with various glorious deepening blues as they glowed against the green forest.

Above, Lisa's tie-dye shirt for one of her twins, one of the stamped cloths we made in Rowena's studio, Kaari's embroidered trim, my one flea market sleeve (to be used in an altered project).

In the center, an embroidered tablecloth I couldn't resist turning blue.

One interesting side note: The leftover woad dye baths, when the color wore thin, were used to dye the local medieval farm shutters and doors, not just for the lovely color, but because the leaves are a natural preservative and pesticide that treated the wood.

Post note: Drs. Denise and Henri Lambert have an interesting story of researching the blue color they found on an 18th-century find at a flea market, collaborating for years with chemists at U de Toulouse, finding by chance at another flea market the diary of Napoleon's chemist, and spending more years working to revive this craft and finding their niche in preparing haute couture fabrics. In Lectoure you can visit their workshop and gallery. He even drives a woad-dyed Jaguar. AND -- Kaari and Lizzie are planning another week at the Chateau next summer (2010). Lizzie already bought her own large tub for the woad dye bath, and I'm sure she's planning on offering woad day again. So keep checking Kaari's blog.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

old stonework


It's true, I have a fascination for old stone. Including stone walls, windows and stairs, like this stairway outside an old building in Cordes sur Ciel. Isn't it beautiful?

Monday, July 20, 2009

medieval city of cordes sur ciel

On our fourth day at the Chateau, we trekked to the nearby medieval city Cordes sur Ciel, perched high on a rocky promontory that allowed its fortified long view of the surrounding valleys. Sometimes it even has its head literally in the clouds. Built in 1222 by the Count of Toulouse, a Cathar heretic, and with many 13th and 14th gothic homes still preserved inside the fortified walls, the town of Cordes ("rocky heights") was renamed in 1993 to reflect its romantic appeal to artists and tourists. On our walk uphill, we visited the printing studio of textile artist Rowena Maybourne, tucked in a narrow 13th-century house with her main studio up the winding stairs on the 3rd floor.

For atmosphere, here are some of my photos from our uphill walk on narrow worn cobblestone streets to the town center at the top -- flowers blooming everywhere, wonderful juxtaposed textures of old stone and weathered wood, ubiquitous shuttered windows. The vivid blue sky was somehow, unfortunately, too ethereal for my camera. But if you visit my new friend Cathy Mogull's blog, you'll see some great photos there of the whole week.

Even where stone wall meets stone walk, there's usually a bit of flowering garden.

Finally, up to the town center inside the town's walls, where our sculpted greeter waited just outside one of the main gates. By appointment, we ate lunch in a restaurant specializing in a medieval menu, quite tasty, served with spoon and knife only, no devil's fork. Then a little shopping was followed by the trek back down the hill.

Old sewing machines lined up in the leather shop where Cathy bought her soft green suede boots.

Flowers carved from wood, then perfumed, were light enough for me to buy a big bouquet to fill a glass urn at home.

Leaving town, we stopped at a couple more small antique shops, where I noticed this old brocante wagon waiting its revival.