The Move: Rumor Squelched

1435937649892OK, we really are moving. We bought and sold in a week. But not France. Almost, but no. Why? It’s true, we tried. Look up “red tape” in the dictionary and it will describe anyone outside the EU trying to take residency there. But that’s OK. It got us out of neutral and in gear for change.

All our travels there will be easier in a few weeks, when we move to our new home in Highland Square, Akron’s closest neighborhood to what we crave. A smaller, charming turn of the (twentieth) century house on a much smaller lot, where we can still have a tiny front garden and a secret little courtyard in the back, without being enslaved to its upkeep. The organic grocery, library, pharmacy, restaurants and more are all easy walking distance. Just like we were seeking in France.

10x20 Stebner painting. "Morning Sun"

10×20 Stebner painting. “Morning Sun”

Of course it isn’t France, C’est ridicule! But it’s our new adventure, all the same, just a mile from Dorchester. Crazy but true. Now when I do cross the Pond to have a proper baguette, gorge myself on French cheese(and wine) and teach painting in the French countryside, whoever housesits(Jim’s increasingly France-smitten with each visit!) will have a lot less to care for. In the meantime, I can always strike up a French conversation at the coffee shop a few blocks away with my young French teacher, Nils.

Did I mention I’ll have a painting studio on the ground level of our new digs, to boot? Pas mal, pas mal du tout!

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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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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?

Caves and Cravings

In June, I introduced my clients to Paris by ascending the Eiffel Tower in the afternoon, where we could gaze far across the sun drenched city to the Basilica Sacre Coeur, crowning Montmartre, only to ascend Montmartre late that night  up the steps of that monument and look back the opposite direction to see the illuminated city and tower twinkling back at us. Yesterday bore similarities mirror images. We made our way to Roussignac, one of the many pre-historic caves within 30 miles of here, to see absolute herds of mammoths, horses, capricorns, rhinoceros and bisons drawn 15,000 years ago on the caves ceilings and walls. What overwhelmed me traveling several kilometers underground to see such ancient drawings, was man’s intrinsic, inescapable need to create and tell his story in some visual form. When these caves were inhabited by middle Magdalenian people, they were only high enough to crawl in. Like Michelangelo, these first artists drew their stories lying on their backs.

Back on our hilltop medieval village, a mere 8 or so centuries old, we ambled under a clear and starry sky to a lovely restaurant near the top of Limeuil. Sitting comfortably upright on the terrace under ancient wysteria arbors and garden lights, we savored a perfectly prepared repast of Périgord gastronomic delights. Silently licking the last morsels of walnut cake and crème anglaise from my fork, my mind ambled through the day-compressed tour of civilization, from burrowing underground to the beginning of man to this sublime moment of evening exhilaration. And my soul, whatever that enigmatic thing is, felt as full and satisfied as my stomach.

Breathing Deep

Being in the French countryside is a paradox for me. On one hand, my senses are on overload. My eyes are analyzing everything I observe. It’s just so beautiful on a superficial, basic tourist kind of  level. Then there’s the art stuff added like a cherry on top. Shadows. Light. Shapes. Lines. Capturing the three dimensions in two on a little piece of canvas. Reducing all the beauty to its essentials. That’s the challenge of every artist, wherever they find themselves; I can return from the market at home and find painting material in the vegetables I load into the fridge. Some end up directly in my studio as models for my next study. All’s well as long as I remember to return them to the kitchen.

Speaking of markets, today is market day. As Rochelle and Mike get ready to go, I’m here by the river using the town internet. Imagine having to come to the town hall garden by the river to check your email. Sitting in the chill of the morning as the sun comes up, listening to the rustle of the river to my right[The second option is  going to the restaurant next door which still picks up the connection and have a coffee, beer or wine(if not lunch or dinner) to check your internet]. That’s the other part of the paradox. Life slows down. Many things are less convenient. The rat race melts like chasing tigers turning to butter. Suddenly, with more powers of observation, I better detect the light change as I watch the sun rise and set, not to mention the star-gazing far from any city light or smog. Oh my God, the stars! Last night the sky was so clear, I saw some I’ve never seen before over the ancient rooftops which are my home for these three autumn weeks in the Périgord. Strikes, leaks and missing bed sheets melt like circling tigers to reveal a delectable, buttery experience I’ve come to call, for good reason, Artistic Adventures.

I’ve been slow to blog because I can’t get pictures from my new phone to my laptop. After vacillating, I’ve decided to post blogs without pictures. They can be seen on my Facebook page this time around. I’ll insert them in the blog when I get home. Maybe.

Success Unexpected

 

Peaceful Times, the Perigord. Stebner 30x40 oil on linen.

Peaceful Times, the Perigord. Stebner 30×40 oil on linen.

 

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

 

Henry David Thoreau

 

10620553_10204206482980856_1105625780484781155_nHere in my sixth decade, more and more, I find myself surrounded by remarkably comfortable cushions of success. Labor day weekend was one of them. The most delightful assortment of people, familiar and new, arrived throughout the afternoon to see my art show, “Blissful Bounty”. As much as I love the act of painting, there’s a marvelous fulfillment in seeing viewers response to my canvases and watching my paintings find their home. I’m just a facilitator in that process. Success.

My good health report earlier that week. Success.

Making final preparations to return to France next week, I realize that I spend about two months  a year discovering and sharing the beauty of that special country with others. Something that I only dreamed about as a child has come to fruition beyond my imagination. It still fills me with boyish glee to pack my bag and anticipate the adventure. Success.

Packing one more art event in the days before departing, I’ll be at Chentini Gallery in Hudson, Ohio tomorrow, September 12th, from 5-7 or so, as a featured artist for the monthly town art walk. If you missed Blissful Bounty on August 30th, why not take in the Art Walk? Laura Centini has done an amazing job creating her own jewel of a place. I’ll have more paintings as well as my easel in tow, painting a new canvas. Lovely people, places and art all in one spot are just one more success unexpected.

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La Bohème to Bloomsbury

20140617_065601Sleeping in a top floor garret in the old walk-up Hotel Esmeralda à la Bohème last night was all the more intensified by Parisian thunder storms. The perfect punctuation to the end of the first chapter of my French sumer trilogy. However, getting my gear to the station and making sure I was on the train to Burgundy was a bit stormy, itself. Staying calm and allowing ample time paid off. That and remembering that life is just the ultimate adventure.

Any guesses what famous Parisian literary spot this is? My room looks down on it's back window!

Any guesses what famous Parisian literary spot this is? My room looks down on it’s back window!

 

So the three hour train ride turned into five. If railroad construction didn’t thwart the trip enough, come to find out, it’s an obscure French holiday- and the beginning of a train strike. Surprise! There’s a french expression that essentially says the French are either on strike or holiday. Today was both.

Tomorrow’s another day and I’m settled with my new painting buddies at Table-Tableau in the Burgundian Morvan. It all seems so Bloomsbury out here in the country with the only humans being artists. One mission accomplished. More artist contact.

Salsa music is playing, the sun is shining and it’s almost dinner time. I can’t wait to see what our Dutch host, Agnes, has prepared. The table under the patio awning is beautiful and it smells divine.

Bruce is happy and content.

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Life in the Fast Lane

Silence at last. There hasn’t been time to think or write since the beginning of the month until now.

New paintings find their home with a long time collector.

New paintings find their home with a long time collector.

 

 

The past weeks have been a bit on the hectic side. Just two weeks ago, Jim and I walked our daughter, Amy, down the isle of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Canton, to be married to her own Prince Charming. More sales and deliveries to new and standing art galleries for summer sales have been squeezed into the schedule before heading to France for a month of touring, teaching and studying of my own.

10 Stebner's are on exhibit at Chentini Gallery in Hudson Ohio this summer.

10 Stebner’s are on exhibit at Chentini Gallery in Hudson Ohio this summer.

Now, Jim and 4 friends and family members are on route to Paris, where I’ll meet them and guide them through some of my favorite haunts of Normandy and Paris. Then, I get to study painting at a tiny art center in the rural Morvan of Burgundy before picking up a group of my painting students and significant others to live the good life in Burgundy form a week, then return to Paris. The blog is once again live! Stay tuned for pictures and snippets of France the Patois Way. If you feel terribly left out, you can jump on board with me in late September or early October, when I’ll be in a lovely stone house in the Perigord.

In a month, I’ll be home with new paintings, artist friends from around the world and memories to paint for a long time.

Sharon Weiss Gallery in Columbus continues to sell my work.

Sharon Weiss Gallery in Columbus continues to sell my work.

Olympic Winters

IMG_0685This has not only been the winter of the 2014 Olympics, but also a winter of olympic snowfall. Since our wedding weekend January 9th, the snow has been relentless until this week. The March-like mud, revealed by its recent melting, will be covered  again before too long; we know it’s not over yet. So how does one keep sane, much less redeem such wintertime? Build a new web site, for starters.

Luckily for me, it’s not quite as complicated as learning French. But, all the same, a painfully frustrating learning curve. To augment my bumbling through the process alone, along with an all-to-brief forty five minute session with a trainer,and in order to avoid brutally mutilating the monitor and keyboard in my fits, I called favors to web-savy Laurent, across the ocean in Alsace. Thank God for such friends and Skype!

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But wait, it’s not just a new web site, there’s a new blog for helping my painting students, too. This has competed with my painting time, to say the least. And painting is a jealous mistress.

The past week’s painting time  has been both a creative oasis and a mini-vacation back to winter in Bourges last January. Dramatic late afternoon light falling on a house at the foot of the remarkable cathedral captured on film there has finally transformed itself into a painting. Recalling winter in that lovely town a year ago ties a romantic thread around these last weeks of February-and winter, itself.

Every passing day draws us one day closer to balmy breezes and our first meal in the garden. And painting en plein air again! Oh, the web site? A few pages remain to be built but you can see it by clicking here!

ENCHANTED APRIL

Winter Roses. Study for the afternoon.

Winter Roses. Study for the afternoon.

Who remembers the 1991 movie “Enchanted April” in which a group of disenchanted Londoners  collect in a Tuscan villa for an escape from the gloom of a dreary London winter? What they find is more than a vacation in the sun. The human experience they encounter is what I crave for the participants in my “Artistic Adventures” trips to France this June. I make the offer and see whose soul resonates with it. Then plan a French country getaway just for them.

6x8 oil on panel. Road's End. Stebner

6×8 oil on panel. Road’s End. Stebner

Though not disillusioned, the promise of six or more inches of snow tonight calls for mental escape. This trip has been my winter obsession; create a French fantasy for my small bands of travelers which will forever enrich their lives with memories fine enough to dispel any long winter storm.

Happily, all of the characters are in place for this two act “Enchanted June”. And the stage is set: a favorite converted mill in Normandy for the first group, followed by a stone house in Burgundian wine country for the second.

Victoria's already dreaming of cooking vats-full of coq au vin in this kitchen!

Victoria’s already dreaming of cooking vats-full of coq au vin in this kitchen!

How lucky I am to have a gallery of French memories, beyond tourist monuments,which includes waking to the aroma of yeasty baguette from the patisserie around the corner, hearing the cookoo call, and painting or lounging by a brook where fishermen, a stones throw away, are catching their evening meal. As much as I anticipate my travelers experiencing the things I love about France, I know it’s the things unexpected, the detours and turns in the road, which will give their trip its own unique flavor and make our trip a true artistic adventure. The human element is the crust on the pain au levan I can’t wait to bite into!IMG_2314For a reminder, click here to watch a great trailer about Enchanted April…