The Current of Peace

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Giverny Bliss, 11×14 oil on linen, Stebner

I remember thirty-some years ago, flying to Europe at the dismay of many, when airplane high-jacking was just beginning. Less than a year ago, Jim and I were on a train to Paris from Provence the day Charlie Hebdo and his team of artist/journalists were murdered on the job in that city of art and culture. We walked the streets unknowingly that night, enjoying a wonderfully romantic dinner not all that far from the scene of the crime. It was later that night, tucked in our hotel room near the Gare de Lyon, that I read many of your concerns for us on Facebook. Now, once again, terrorism has tried to darken the City of Light. But its inhabitants seem to refuse to buckle. Nor would I.

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Autumn Bliss, 11×14 oil on linen, Stebner

It’s public knowledge that I’ve been fighting a personal terrorist called cancer for over two years. I’ve refused to cave in to its assault on my happiness and creativity. Facing that assailant within has only strengthened my resolve to drain the last drop of life out of every day. This autumn it’s been a season to paint my childhood stomping grounds on the Cuyahoga River as well as French memories. Our move put teaching in France on the back burner this September.

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Everett Bridge, 12×16 oil on linen, Stebner

In a little over a week, I’ll host my thirty-sixth holiday open house and sale. In an effort to add at least a drop to aid world peace, I’ll be donating 10% of all sales through December 19th to the Gandhi Institute. So, should a Stebner painting call your name as a gift to yourself or a loved one, you’ll be doing your part, too. Thanks.

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Returning to Childhood, Cuyahoga River  8×12 oil on panel, Stebner

Bookends

Although it only takes three hours to get from Paris to Mougny- Bazolles, it’s a trip from one world to another. All the overt stimulation of civilization Paris offers is usurped by a subtle, gentle one which seeps into your pores unknowingly in very little time. It’s the act of coming in tune with the rhythms of nature instigated by the gentle Burgundian breeze and sun.

1970401_10206194761086566_1741745792181170749_nRinging Jim yesterday at his breakfast time, the first sound I heard at the other end was a singing cardinal. I was momentarily confounded, feeling we must be in the same place, hearing the same birds and feeling the same breeze. But no, they were Ohio cardinals chirping in one ear, while I was hearing unknown ones in the other. As a very late sun set about us that evening, Agnes assured me I’d be lulled to sleep by the nightingale, to which I asked if this part of Burgundy is also home to the cuckoo. As sure as the nightingale sang to me as I climbed the stairs over the donkey barn to my garret above the house, I awoke to the cuckoo at the sun’s rising.

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The rumbles of Paris streets and subways are a distant strain as I finish my second painting of the morning. Soon I’ll be collecting the last three students from the train station to join this world of gentle beauty. Together we’ll learn from the capricious sun how to paint it’s light on our canvas.

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Before Sunset

OK, I blatantly stole the title for this blog from one of the three most annoying movies I’ve ever endured, just because it takes place in Paris. Happily, my agenda before sunset changed from a museum marathon into an attempt to see through the eyes of one of my favorite painters, Pierre Bonnard. Much more fulfilling than a day shredded away with Ethan Hawke-Julie Delpy hopeless misunderstandings.

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So what if I only saw one exhibit? That one made me very, very happy because it was another chance to stroll with Bonnard, oblivious to the throngs of others about us. Several years ago, it was the Bonnard museum in Le Cannet, on the Mediterranean. Today it was the Bonnard exhibit at Musée d’Orsay.( If you followed that day on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you were right in my pocket. If you don’t I’ll plug for signing on. It’s going to be a much more direct way to feel like you’re right there with me, as my dear friend, Nancy Sampson, commented today.)

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But the point of the day is this: although packing things in, as I mentioned yesterday, can sometimes be stressfull, it can also make any journey worthwhile. And as you know, striding through my sixth decade, I’ve snatched onto the concept of sucking the marrow out of the bone more than ever, because we never know when the sun will set. I’d rather be tired from doing than regretting I didn’t. When sunset comes in an hour or two, I’ll be sipping wine and savoring bistro fare with a soul as content as my belly. And that should be as good a remedy for jet lag as any. If I should waken, I’ll be seeing all the beautiful colors of Bonnard’s paintings as well as those of a sunset on the Seine.

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Packed

Packed: The past weeks were scheduled “comme d’habitude”- as usual. Work. Concerts. Company. Parties. Add a last minute mural job that filled two days. Add a trip to Sharon Weiss Gallery in Columbus to exchange work which took one day. Round it out with a last minute overnight to NYC to pick up the paintings that didn’t sell at my show at the gallery of  St. Mary the Virgin, and there’s a week’s worth of time stuffed into my last two weeks before leaving for France.

Packed: France this round adds one more dimension. Beyond 5 weeks of clothes and painting supplies, three weeks before taking off, a one-man-show was negotiated in the Chateau Hall of Limeuil in the Périgord. That means I had to figure out how to fit finished work into the suitcase, as well. And the days of two free suitcases for international travel are over, which means I’m on a fifty pound limit, plus carry on luggage.

Packed: Stress was mounting the last week, right up to the ticket counter, when I discovered my suitcase weighed fifty-seven pounds instead of the forty-eight it weighed on my scale at home. Of course that may have something do with the suitcase hanging over the sides of the scale. Thankfully, there was no line, so I had time to repack, transferring seven pounds from my suitcase to my backpack. But the mission is accomplished and I’m listening for my Paris-bound plane load in Toronto. Twenty minutes late so far. Happily, I have no connection to make. Just two art exhibits to cram into one day, before mounting the train Wednesday morning to head to Burgundy.

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”.

 

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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Parisian Treasures

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An afternoon museum hopping is not a bad thing to do when you’re alone in Paris and it’s mighty chilly outside. This treasure of a portrait in the Petit Palais by Chales Giron was a real treat. I wish you could really get your nose up to it like I did. The mood created by such juicy brushwork and amazing values completely captured my imagination to the point I forgot about the chill of the wind-swept Seine outside. Now isn’t that a sign of effective art?

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Speaking of juicy brushwork and river breezes, just prior to discovering that Swiss delight, I stumbled upon an exhibit with Monet’s own plein air setup. In my mind, it was still out along the riverbank between Giverny and Vernon on a summer’s day and the man himself was busily working his magic under the shade of the linen umbrella.

But the pleasures of summer aside, this winter in France, I’ve made a commitment to learn to paint irresistibly plaintive winter scene’s, when I’m back at my own easel. It’s a message that’s been delivered through art museums and weeks in the chill of nature, herself. Misty mountains and snow-dusted trees have come to haunt my dreams. And (to quote the French), bref, if the color is good enough for the top of my head, why can’t it become the main character of my canvas, too?

But gray also brings me to the day’s end with another dusty, winter sky. Even without an amazing sunset, the City of Light offers its own brilliant sparks of joy to please the eye and soothe the soul. But can you imagine actually riding there on a blustery winter evening? The distant laughter tells me that such thrill is an art all its own.

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Paris It Is

Last February you may recall that I woke up to the sound of rifles in Monfort sur Argens, celebrating the feast day of of St. Blaise. This morning we awoke to unusually loud Parisians dressed in white collecting on our little square in Monmartre. The gods were giving Jim a feast day of his own- the Monmartre classic car convention! I guess when you only really have one day in Paris, the sun should shine, breeze should blow and antique/vintage cars should collect outside your window.

And being Sunday, we were serenaded throughout the day by church bells, street entertainers and a concert of baroque lute and soprano songs.

For Griffin and my part, our trip to my favorite museum in Paris, the Musée Marmottin, proved to be a visual jackpot of its own. Not only were there Monet’s water lilies to absorb, but also a special exhibit of my favorite painter of all time, Berthe Morisot.

To date, some of my favorite Griffinisms include: “I’ll never eat pizza again in Ohio after pizza here… I bet I’ll loose weight when I go home, because food won’t taste this good… I want to bring my mom, dad and brother here.” And at lunch today, he concluded, “I could get used to this…”

To quote Jim, at the end of a perfectly ordinary day, “Don’t you love our life?”

Au Revoir, ma France

Thanks for keeping me company on my Winter in Provence. When I rise Monday morning in Akron, I hope there’s nothing to report like getting to the train station in Aix…

As know-it-all adolescents, my mother would annoy us with her self-defensive warning that pride goeth before the fall. Having departed Monfort at 6:45, I drove down the Rue de la Republic sans faute toward the Aix Eurocar rental office an hour later, feeling pretty proud of myself. I had several hours left to drop off the car, walk five blocks to the train station and snatch a coffee and croissant. Problem: seeing the locked up Eurocar facade, I remembered I was to return the car at the train station. Lucky I had time to wind back.

Problem two: After circling about forty minutes, I discovered that there are two train stations in Aix and the one I needed was in a suburb, not around the corner. Feeling the pinch.

Problem three: As my francophile-artist friend, Cindy, says, French directions and road signs get you ninety percent of the way there. Deduct more for not catching avery word. After sweating more wrong turns, I arrived at the airport-sized train station and after one final bad turn down  a fireman-dedicated lane, handed over the car keys at 9:15. My unnerved and damaged self-esteem was consoled to still have ample time to buy a baguette sandwich for the train.

Paris has been a dream, granted a chilly one. I finally spent time at the Louvre and revisited my favorite artists at Musée Dorsay. Last night I reveled in a magical dream of new French friends saying goodbye: a Moulin Rouge version of the real goodbye I had shared with the waiter at Le Jardin d”Artemis, who announced to the French diners that I was his American artist friend.

Difficult to top that farewell, I’ll end the trip tonight after one last cold walk to the Seine and back, dining late in a tiny husband-wife restaurant around the corner, sating any sense left in my body, mind or soul that can possibly absorb another ounce of life. I may explode, but what a way to go!