New Year, New Start

Provence: Chateau Grounds. 11x14 oil on linen

Provence: Chateau Grounds. 11×14 oil on linen

Returning from southern France, I’ve absorbed myself in an annual oblation: cleaning house. Don’t panic, I’m not talking about the whole house! Rather, housecleaning my studio. It was instigated by the purchase of a new desk. Change one thing and everything changes. In this case, not just the organization of my studio, but changes in my painting, as well.

Bowl ofOranges 8x10 oil on panel

Bowl ofOranges 8×10 oil on panel

I doubt if my change in painting approach can be attributed to the clean-up. It’s more the result of meeting my new friend Wendy and having our own little art-fix together in Arles. Unknowingly, she inspired me to try to make friends the palette knife.  In high school, my first painting teacher painted solely with the knife. The 60’s had just ended and the knife was still à la mode. I avoided it then and barely gave it time last summer in Burgundy, where I painted next to my new palette knife-painter friend, Monika Johnson. Nevertheless. the seeds had been planted and now watered. But bref, every time I’ve picked up a knife to paint in place of a brush, I feel like I’m painting with the wrong hand.

French Coffee Pot and Pears. 11x14 oil on linen

French Coffee Pot and Pears. 11×14 oil on linen

At this stage of life, I’m all about confronting whatever fears remain. And what’s the worst thing that can happen in this case? Really! So the challenges of 2015 are being faced head-on. Welcome the fresh breeze of the unknown. As a result of my taking the knife in hand, going back to the brush is already a more efficient process. It’s brought me to paint with thicker paint, having been inspired last summer by Antonin Passemard and Anastasia Dukhanina. As a teacher, it reminds me that words sometimes take a long time to take root.

Blue Skies over Uzes. 11x14 oil on linen.

Blue Skies over Uzes. 11×14 oil on linen.

I’ll remember that this summer when I’m teaching in France in two very beautiful and different parts of the country: Burgundy and the Périgord. Who’s going to face their fears, put excuses behind, sign up and join me? You won’t regret it!

L'Eustaque: Winter Plane Trees. 8x110 oil on panel

L’Estaque: Winter Plane Trees. 8×110 oil on panel

The Bliss in Ignorance

I have no insight to offer the insidious crisis of  Je suis Charlie. 

But Jim and I walked into the 11th arrondissement of Paris Wednesday afternoon totally unaware of the shooting of Charlie Hebdo and his staff. We were simply spending the last night of our delayed “honeymoon” in Paris after our sunny week in Provence, before returning home Thursday morning. Having been without internet service for several days, it wasn’t until we settled into our room in a little tourist hotel near the Gare de Lyon that I had a chance to open Facebook and read your entries of concern for us.

1419846990401Jim is a Facebook voyeur: he gets the scoop secondhand from me. But no grass grows under his feet. No sooner had I read him the entries, than he was scratching at his iPad, as I blogged, to scout  out the news. At that point, only the bare facts were available so we went on our merry way.

ParisZagat2013_ChezPaul_photoJessicaHauf__17It wasn’t just us. Such tragedies are so surreal it takes time to absorb their meaning. Life on the streets of Paris continued to appear normal, in spite of the shocking event. Students, tourists, business people and mother’s with strollers filled the sidewalks as always, as we walked northward to have one last romantic dinner at Chez Paul, only blocks from the Hebdo headquarters. Much to our ignorance. Had we been better informed, we probably would have taken a different tack: maybe a pilgrimage back to the Rue de Mouffetard across the River in the Latin Quarter or even dined close to the hotel. But we were still on honeymoon mode. Our brains were filled beyond capacity with our own happiness. Dinner was a dream.ParisZagat2013_ChezPaul_photoJessicaHauf__11

In spite of more murders the next day, our flight was early enough in the day to roll off the runway on time, without a hitch. Since then, the media has made it clear that it isn’t the end of the story. What appeared to begin as an attack on freedom of thought, speech and artistic expression has taken the life of innocents beyond. The end? I don’t know what it’s like to be in a massacre, but I do know what it’s like to have my body attacked by disease and fight with all my fiber to get my life back to a “normal” I will never again know. Normal continues to morph, exchanging unimaginable treasures for every copper penny it takes. I’m not at all sure that applies in this case.

Je suis Charlie. Vous êtes Charlie. Tout le monde est Charlie.

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Good to the Last Drop

0105151409aHaving settled in our little hotel in Paris, I’ll take some time to catch up. Since our day in Aix-en-Provence, internet service was sketchy, causing a blogging hiatus. Now to make amends…

Our last two days were another geographical yin and yang.

Monday we headed northwest into the Laguedoc-Russiollon department to the enchanting town of Uzes, whose grand stone buildings glow with the sun. Lunch was taken in a tiny bistro specializing in local produce. How can you beat a meal high on local flavor set against a sunny town square? Pretty perfect.

0105151337Leaving Uzes, we side-stepped on our way home to visit one of her neighbors, the little jewel of Lusson. Much smaller, but equally charming, this intimate bastide town perches atop a hill offering some spectacular views -360 degrees about. Perfect town for painters.

0105151413aIt was only fitting to head back south to the Mediterranean on our last day in Provence: this time to the Camargue. This marshy region near mouth of the Rhone River is home to cowboys, bulls, white horses and flamingoes. No surprise that it was fuel for Van Gogh’s paintings. The ocean town, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, was our destination. A town full of tourists in summer and religious legends year-round, in January we had it to ourselves.

1420554883536This morning we hit the streets of Arles one last time to scour the flea market before taking the TGV back to Paris. My suitcase is a little heavier than when we left home 10 days ago. Maybe a little trunk show will be in order once we’re settled back in our wintery Ohio nest. Warming ourselves with memories of the sun and blue skies of Provence, we’ll remember new friends as we sit around the fire with our band of “besties”.

 

Looking down on Creation

IMG_5718It’s a wonderful thing to be in Aix-en-Provence, the home of Cezanne, under the protection of Mt. Ventoux. From almost anywhere in town it’s possible to look about and see the famous mountain standing guard. The city itself is a picturesque, provençal, mini-Paris: friendly yet chic, rooted in historic yet youthfully progressive.  And then there’s the food…

unnamed 2Just 45 minutes from Arles, it would have been an easy day trip. But with an invite from Wendy’s daughter, who was leaving town for a skiing weekend, we were packing the Peugeot, Viggo, the cocker, and all, for an overnight in her 200 year old family cabane, high above the city. What could be more romantic than turning off the busy road on the edge of town only to cross a narrow, one lane, stone bridge, le Pont des Trios Saulets, immortalized in paint by another famous figure, Winston Churchill? It was just a foretaste of the rustic pleasures in store at the stone cottage up the mountain, where we could look down on the city or across the valley to Mt.Ventoux, itself.

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Saturday in Aix, as in many cities, towns and villages in France, is a time to faire les magazins- go shopping, whether for necessities or luxuries; and we did our share. From open air markets to antique art boutiques to Hermes, we covered the gamut. That night, after Wendy and I had a little paint-out in the garden, we all relaxed around the fireplace with Robert’s favorite pizza and wine, resting up for our big Sunday walk down to Aix and back. Viggo was in heaven and we weren’t far behind.

unnamed 3Back in Arles, after a late afternoon trip to the hill town of Les-Beaux to scout out more painting sports for future tours, we were once again at table, dining, wining and plotting an autumn Artistic Adventure not to be missed.

Who wants in?

Arles: don’t ask, don’t tell!

unnamedTwo years later, I was walking about Arles almost like a local. With Wendy’s assistance, we were wending our way through the quaint Roquette district of Arles in no time, searching for l’Aubergine Rouge, my former b&b. Further on, we slipped down numerous narrow streets wide enough for three people and a bicycle; narry a car to be seen. Tipping my hat to memories was balanced by new year encounters with friends of Wendy, beginning with Charlotte, who invited us to see her comfy nest, after recognizingWendy as we regarded the sweet creche(housing a proper Christ Child instead of the previous Donald Duck) in her window. We ambled the tiny byways of Arles the rest of the day, pausing for crepes and coffee late in the morning before visiting the Van Gogh Foundation and enjoying an incredible lunch of delicious homemade pasta dishes.

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Who knows what bridge this is?

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Wendy’s backstreet tour led us not only to favorite architectural gems, but also favorite shops and potential hubs for future painting sites and courses. Secret courtyards, churchyards and dead-end paths will be ultimately recorded on canvas by any number of future Patois students. Serendipitous meetings with an array of Wendy’s friends punctuated a day which began with a visit to the bridge above, instigating conversations commencing with the question “What angle would you choose to paint the bridge?”

unnamedAs we ended the day savoring a homemade roquefort tart and perfect époisse cheese with armagnac, reminiscing over the events of the day turned to anticipating an overnight in Aix tomorrow, made possible by a phone call early in the morning from Wendy’s daughter, who was leaving Aix for the Swiss border on a skiing weekend. Mi cassa es su cassa. More artists, art supplies, museums, antiques and great food are waiting to be discovered. It’s only a question of following our muse. Time to sleep so I’ll be ready…

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Brushing up on Provence

IMG_5709Yesterday the Mistral receded and we scoured the provençal hinterlands, scouting out painting locations for future painting classes. Winding to higher latitudes past rocky cliffs, snow became more and more prominent in the landscape. Not the masses of snow I met several years ago as I hairpinned my way up the mountain to Tours, but chilly all the same. Beautiful, but chilly.

Our New Year’s celebration was a delightfully intimate dinner with our new friend and guide, Wendy and her husband, Robert. We shared a deliciously simple meal around the table, regaling one-another with life-stories which, by the end of the evening, led to toasts to new friendships and future joys to be lived.

unnamed 2With a new year ahead of us, the sunny Mediterranean coast beckoned us this morning. At the last minute, Wendy snuck off to her studio and packed some art supplies “just in case”, before Robert fired up the Peugeot and we were on our way to make an artistic pilgrimage to l’Estaque, the harbor town at the western edge of Marseille. Early in the twentieth century it was a haven of creativity for a famous array of impressionist and post-impressionist artists, writers and musicians. The “Painters’ Path” is a well marked route about town, identifying locations where may well-known works were created. I took 15 minutes to paint a little plein air sketch, which Wendy documented on video. A homage to edit when I return home…

Tomorrow it’s off to the secret corners of Arles: places and streets Wendy assures us no one else knows. Who can resist a secret?unnamed