Wednesday, November 30, 2011

There is No Cure for Paris

Ernest Hemingway said, "There are only two places in the world where we can live happy; at home and in Paris." There is truth to his statement. The sun rises very late here this time of year and I had no time to waste. I got out as early as I could to walk around Montmartre. Sacre Coeur was on my list of things to see and I wanted to walk around Montmartre on a sunny day. Based on the report, deterioration is in the forecast, so today was the day for being outdoors. I had been to this section of Paris years ago, but didn't explore it as I did today. One of the most unusual sights was the Moulin de la Galette. The windmill was built in 1622 and immortalized by Renoir. Oddly enough, there are houses all around it...remarkable it is still standing. There is also a home in Montmartre where Van Gogh, Renoir, Utrillo and his mother Suzanne Valadon once lived, as well as a cemetary where Nijinsky, Dumas and Degas, among others are buried.

To continue my explorations, I ventured onto the Metro to go to other sections of the city. The Metro system in Paris is extraordinary. One can go anywhere in the city. Unfortunately everything is in French! Go figure. I made like Blanche Dubois and accepted the kindness of strangers when I asked a woman if she spoke English. She took time out of her busy day and helped me. If she hadn't been there, I would likely still be in the first Metro station having gotten nowhere. I made my way to the Louvre just to be in that area of the city and then walk along the Siene across the Pont Neuf and on to Notre Dame where I climbed the 400 stairs to the towers to see several breathtaking views of Paris. Afterward, I saw signs for the Pompidou Centre and wanted to see that most unusual of buildings.

Finally, one of the highlights of my day came at night. The server at dinner was from Nepal and spoke excellent English. A young couple a few tables away overheard us talking and asked if I would like to dine with them. The young man is a musician who favors American jazz and blues and wants to improve his English. We had a wonderful time sharing musical tastes and resorting to writing words down when our accents got in the way of understanding. That ends another magical day in France. Bon nuit!

I have included images of Moulin de la Galette, a chimera sculpture atop Notre Dame and my new friends William and Loriane. Merci beaucoup a vous deux!

Monday, November 28, 2011

And The Winner Is....

Saturday night was the reception that I hosted for the committee, Les Amis de La Grande Vigne. These were the people who selected me for this honor. I was concerned about whether I had the right food, whether the work would be well received, whether the wine would be good and about my pigeon French! I needn't have been concerned about any of it. Why is it that most of the things that concern us never really come to pass? The committee members were a most delighful group and the evening topped off a waking dream for me. I found myself regretting that I didn't have the ability to tape what was being said just so that I could replay the beautiful French that was being spoken. Fortunately, 3 of the committee members spoke some English. This meant that I didn't have to rely on charades to be understood. There was a lot of laughter. I had a great time with the entire group.

The over-arching reason for the reception was for the committee to select a piece for their collection. I was pleased that they had difficulty making a choice, because, of course, I was concerned that my work be up to their standards. The piece that they selected was one that I included in a previous blog post, but I include it again here. This painting was inspired by a lake view within the Forest of Paimpont. When I saw the lake, I was transfixed and got out of the car to take resource photographs right away. Mist was falling, which threatened my camera lens, but I got shots that I knew would inspire some work. When I got back to the house, I was moved by this particular view and the painting practically painted itself. In fact, it seemed to come too easily without the usual struggle. I call paintings such as these my 'hole in one' paintings since they happen rarely. Oddly enough, this was the only painting that I made during my sojourn here that I had already titled. Good thing, too, since they wanted a title for the piece!

So, the winner is, "Vivianne Was Here."

Amazing History

The sun was making a bid for sovreignty before the clouds won out this morning. No matter, I was determined to squeeze every last moment out of my time here in Dinan. Sarah had been in town several weeks ago and told me about the church bells ringing in the morning. I hadn't heard them, so out I went to do just that. The chimes started at 10:00 a.m., while I was climbing Rue de Jerzual, I wanted to be closer to the church to hear the bells reverberate off of the stone buildings so I hastened my gait. I was needlessly concerned. The bells continued from Saint Saviour's for a full ten minutes, and then following that, right on cue, the bells began emanating from Saint Malo Church. Between both the churches, the bells rang for almost thirty minutes. The only other sound was made by the cars rumbling over the cobblestone streets. I was enthralled. Because of all the stone buildings the sound bounced back and forth. It was a moment in time that I won't soon forget.

The other day I went to Saint Saviour's Church. I wrote about going to what I thought was Saint Saviour's earlier in my postings only to discover that I had the wrong church! I was actually in Saint Malo Church. I have since corrected my post. Anyway, this is not a new reflection from anyone, but I am in awe of the history present all over Europe. The history of Saint Savior's Church is a fascinating one. In 1112, a young knight from Dinan set off for the Crusades. In the midst of battle, he made a vow that if he should ever see Dinan again, he would pay for the building of a church to be named Saint Saviour's. He did return and he made good on his vow with a commission for the sanctuary. Additions and changes have been made over the years and when the church was made a Basilica, gorgeous stained glass windows were installed.

I include an image of the church during the day. The exterior arches that make up the entrance to the church date back to 1120. I went out last night to take pictures of the town in the evening and snapped this shot of one of the arches.

Friday, November 25, 2011

It's All About Purpose!

So, prior to my trip, I loaded tons of books (finished one and am reading 2 others now) and also three magazines onto my iPad. I usually don't make time to read magazines that are not related to my work. For the trip however, I loaded 3 months of Oprah magazine. One issue is all about living one's life with a purpose. This idea has been one that is imperative for me and is one of the reasons that I made the trip to France.

Yvonne Jean-Haffen was the artist who bequeathed this opportunity for other artists to come live in Dinan, France for a month to work. Now, SHE was a person who lived with a purpose. Her home is now a house museum. Unfortunately, the museum is closed to the public during the winter months. Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to go into her home for a private viewing. This was a moving experience for me on every level. Her work was displayed throughout the home. She had mastered a variety of media including drawing, painting, and ceramics. The full collection of her work includes 4,000 drawings and paintings. What moved me most was her studio which appeared to also be her sleeping quarters. What a way to live!

Yesterday was market day in Dinan and I hated the thought of missing the experience. There is produce, cooked foods, cheese, meats and all types of clothing. Fortunately, I was able to go to the house museum and then head to the market before it closed. I will miss that experience. There are venors who have come to recognize my face. I also went into one of the shops to purchase a map of Paris. When I inquired if the shop worker spoke English, she answered me with "very little". I stumbled over my French to ask for the map of Paris and she said, "You do speak French". The months of study have paid off. I still speak so very little, and have so few words, but I have been able to get by. The real test... Paris! I will be living on purpose there as well!

I have included a photograph of Yvonne Jean-Haffen's studio and a photo of the little studio where I have been working for the month.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful... Mais Oui!

I think this is the first Thanksgiving I have ever spent without friends or family. It is just another Thursday here in France, which feels astoundingly odd to me. I will have some great French gastronomical delights and toast my fellow Americans while here in Dinan.

Deep gratitude doesn't begin to touch what I feel for having been awarded this opportunity. The city of Dinan has won my heart and I am hatching plans to return. Needless to say, I am grateful for the opportunity to paint and become acquainted with Dinan. Since Sarah's departure from the house last Friday, I have finished 2 paintings, have touched up the other paintings that I have made and started a new one as well. I am pleased with the results. Every evening I work late into the night and then work again in the morning. I could get used to this! The solitude is a petri dish for inspiration.

I am also thankful for being able to experience all the wonderful sites, people and... the food. Since Thanksgiving is all about the food (when it isn't about football), I leave you with photographs of some of the fine dishes and desserts that I have enjoyed while in Brittany. One terrific salad was consumed in a restaurant here called, Avec Les Anges. I hope you are all avec les anges today, Happy Turkey Day everyone! I do miss you! Bon appetite!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

With No Plan

Some of the best experiences occur without a blueprint. Yesterday was a perfect example. I walked to town with several specific purposes, but rigidity isn't my modus operandi. Once I traversed the cobbled mountain of Rue de Jerzual, (one always feels that they should be at the top of the hill only to discover that there is much farther to go!) window-shopping was my reward. When a particular item caught my eye, I went into the shop and had a delightful conversation with a young woman from Holland who was employed there. At the age of fourteen, she met a young man from France. By the time she was 20, she fell in love with him and has been here since. Prior to her job in this store, she had worked as an aide to special needs children, but found that her sensitive nature made that job too painful for her. I am fascinated by other people's stories, so I was grateful to meet her. In fact, not being understood by others has been the most difficult thing. I miss connecting with people. Fortunately, in the last few days, I have met several English speakers.

After meeting my new acquaintance, I had hoped to go into one of the old churches in town, but the entrance to this ediface still eluded me. Instead, I found myself in front of the Castle Museum and waffled as to whether to pay the entry fee, reasoning that I could go later in the week. However, the weather is tricky here (it was cloudy with rain in the forecast for the next several days) and the view from the top of the museum would be compromised in inclement weather. Also, I remembered that my time in Dinan is becoming very limited, so in I went. This museum houses artwork and images that explain the history of Dinan. Of particular interest to me were historical genre paintings of the Port of Dinan which is the location of the house where I am living. Minus the contemporary boats and cars, the Port looks as it did several hundred years ago. By climbing 152 steps, I was rewarded with a terrific view of the city. The Castle Museum is the foremost monument in Dinan. It is composed of three elements that were joined together in the 16th Century. From what I have been able to piece together, the construction started in the 14th Century. The Castle was once a residence of Duke Jean IV, later it was a defensive complex and finally a jail. I enjoyed my visit there immensely and have included photographs of the Castle from the exterior and a photograph of what appeared to be a crypt. I could not discern the French description, so more research will be needed. I had to be careful in that particular room because the floor was solid stone and not level at all. It was like balancing on a cliff and quite dark in the room, so caution was warrented. Soyez prudent!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Unique and Unusual

The day before yesterday was spent at Mont-Saint-Michel. What a fascinating experience. Spiraling above the waters of the bay, Mont-Saint-Michel is one of the most monumental and picturesque of the World Heritage Sites. I was able to see the abbey from the highway on the way to Dinan at the beginning of my journey and exclaimed to Sarah in excitement when I caught sight of it. We had a perfect day with regard to weather, the sun was shining and it was mild. In fact, it was colder inside the abbey than it was outdoors.

Mont-Saint-Michel is between the borders of Normandy and Brittany and is one of the wonders from the Middle Ages. Built on granite rock, it seems to rise directly out of the sea. What surprised me was the village at the foot of the abbey. The buildings consist of half-timbered houses that are crowded inside a ring of fortifications. The fortifications were built on sand which is most unusual.

Since it was low tide, we were able to walk around the whole structure which afforded some unique views. Also unusual, were some of the shops in the village within the fortifications. What we found in the shops were common tourist trinkets, including, believe it or not, squirt guns and Betty Boop totebags. A most incongruent location for those things to be purchased, I think!

I have included a photograph of me before going into Mont-Saint-Michele and a photograph of the shadow cast by the abbey in the sand. I guess I will have to include a photograph of some more food in my next post!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Another Charming Encounter

My friend Sarah went to pick her husband up at the train station in Rennes yesterday and will be spending time with him. Sadly, she is also going to go back home earlier than planned and I will be left to fend for myself. I said that I would do this trip by myself if I had to, but I didn't think that that would actually come to fruition. That said, I think that the solitude will be good for me in advance of returning home.

At midday yesterday, I realized that it may be prudent for me to have lunch out and eat dinner in. It gets dark very early here this time of year and since it is low season, it is a bit too quiet for me to feel comfortable traipsing around by myself at night. If nothing else, the cobble stones are precarious in the daylight, I don't need to be traversing them after dark alone. So, with all that in mind, I walked into town. The sun was shining on a glorious day here in Dinan.

I went to a restaurant that Sarah and I have visited twice already because they have wonderful salads. While waiting for my server to bring my meal, one of the men who works at the restaurant that I recognized from my previous visits swooped over to my table. He grabbed my camera and before I could protest, he indicated with hand movements (no English!) that he wanted to take my picture in the restaurant. Then, for everyone within earshot he announced that I was very beautiful (in French). I didn't buy into it, of course, but still... European men... gotta love 'em!

I am including one of the photographs that he took of me and also a photo from my walk along the beautiful Rance River this morning. The fog was beginning to lift on what would be a lovely, autumn day. The time that I have spent along the river has enchanted me, and the people of Dinan have as well.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Common Ground

It's funny... growing up in the Jewish tradition in West Virginia definitely landed me in the minority. That experience colors who I am every day of my life. Everyone responds to their circumstances differently, and of course I am no exception. As a result of my "people person" nature, I am always looking for the common ground. I think that the book "The Faith Club" spoke to me so eloquently because the pages illustrated the power of finding the common ground within very different cultural experiences. I digress a bit here to explain a little about "The Faith Club" because I so enjoyed this book of nonfiction. Written by 3 women raised within the different Abrahamic faiths, the book was inspired by the tragic events, and the subsequent grief, after 9-11. These women came together to discuss their differences, but also to explore their similarities. Strangers at the beginning, they became very close friends as a result of their common aspirations for themselves and the people closest to them. The book gave me faith in human nature when my confidence was flagging. I read it several years ago, but it inspires me still. You can find out more about this book and the authors by going to

What I didn't realize until coming here was that I even search for the common ground visually. It must be my way of placing myself in unfamiliar surroundings. I panicked when I considered making paintings of the charming, but imposing stone buildings of Dinan. I will tackle that subject from the comfort of my familiar studio. While here, I will look to the common ground for my inspiration. Will the paintings look like France, I doubt it. Will they look like the landscape that speaks to my soul, absolutely!

I have included photos of two of the paintings that I have completed while here. Since I am waxing poetic about common ground, and since we all love food, I am including a photo of a terrific salad that I consumed the other day... enjoy!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Finding Comfort in the Familiar

This morning was dreary. When Sarah asked what I thought the weather would do, I repeated what my Dad used to say, "If it doesn't rain, it is missing a good chance." I know that I mentioned that I prefer sun. We have been rewarded with beautiful weather for the past 3 days, so there will be no complaints from this end.

I have been troubled a bit with regard to what I should paint. Before coming here I was afraid I would find no inspiration. Once here, I have had the opposite problem. There is so much that is stunning. Interestingly, however, I find that I am drawn to the river which is what I am drawn to at home.

Prior to leaving home, I took photographs of the paths near my house so that I could look at those scenes in case I should miss them. I looked at them just last night, in fact. Of course, we take ourselves wherever we go, so I have gravitated to the path across the street from the house in which I am living. This path follows the Rance and is gorgeous in all sorts of weather. Today, a walk was in order. Sarah headed for the city and I headed for the path by the river. I took my iPhone to listen to music and also to take pictures if something presented itself, which it always does. In fact, I took pictures until I was concerned that the rain might damage my iPhone. (Dad would be pleased that the chance of rain wasn't missed!) These images may be the start of a new series when I return. In the meantime, I am going to stick with some of the stunning scenes that I have encountered repeatedly, scenes that speak to me no matter where I find myself.

I am including two photographs from our trip to the coast on Monday and Tuesday. The first photograph is of Megalithic Alignments and the second is of the Cote de Granite Rose or Pink Granite Cliffs. The Megalithic Alignments were constructed incrementally, with succeeding generations adding to the alignments over the centuries. It is difficult to date them but is speculated that they were placed around 3300 BC. The Pink Granite Cliffs need no explanation. I promise to include more food photos soon! Au Revoir!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Happy Birthday to Arthur Goldstein

Woke to heavy fog this morning. The amount of daylight is limited at this time of year here. It seems that the sun doesn't battle its way through the clouds (if it wins the fight) until around 10 a.m. and it is dark by 5 p.m.. Therefore, this is the perfect place to ease into one's day.

Sarah and I saw fields of flowers last week when we went to the art supply store in St. Malo. We have been waiting for the sun to come out to go back and get some photos of those fields... no luck in that department yet. When we had sun a few days ago, we raced to enjoy Dinan in the sunshine and take reference photographs of the town rather than go out into the fields of flowers. I do hope that the fog breaks with bright sun today.

Although I have several friends, and likely, family members who enjoy a rainy day above all others, I am my father's daughter and much prefer the bright sunshine. My father would have been 90 years old today. He was stationed in Panama during WWII where he learned to speak Spanish. As a result of that experience, he always wanted to visit Spain and planned to do so when he retired. Unfortunately, Dad died 29 years ago and never made it to Spain. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of my father. So, although I am not in Spain, most of my travels have been dedicated to my Dad and I remember him most keenly when I am far from my home. I like to think that he looks out for me now even as he looked out for me while he still walked this earth. So,the dessert that I am sure to have today is for you, Dad. Happy Birthday, your memory is a blessing!

Sharing a photo of Dinan taken from the Ramparts and in the distance through the atmosphere.

And one more thing... James Cullum wrote a terrific article about me for the Lorton Patch. To read the article go to:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Saint Malo Church Encounter

The sun came out yesterday. Therefore, I walked and walked and walked some more. We hadn't seen the sun for 8 days. As a result, I rushed to get out to take resource photographs and do some exploring. I walked from 10 a.m. until almost 4 p.m. with only a small break for a bite to eat for lunch. No break was taken for the eating of an almond croissant that I had before lunch. That was enjoyed on the move.

Prior to the croissant, I visited the Saint Malo Church which was lovely. The experience was made more enjoyable as a result of my interaction with an elderly man. I encountered him before entering the building. I was fascinated with the Hebrew inscription on the exterior doors. While photographing the Hebrew, the man approached me unsteadily. He was walking with a cane but was very vibrant with life. He spoke something to me in French that I couldn't begin to understand and laughed gaily when I responded with my new favorite phrase, "Je ne comprends pas." I followed him into the building and was rewarded by the beauty that I found within. I love old churches, cathedrals and basilicas. This is somewhat inexplicable to me given my Jewish heritage. Always concerned that I don't offend anyone present to pray, I become very aware of any noise that I make in these buildings. So there I was, quietly taking photographs when the elderly gentleman appeared. He led me to the chapel with great pride. When he saw that I was taking pictures, rather than be offended, he indicated that he would turn on the light for me. He then asked where I was from. When I told him, he was excited to tell me that he had lived in Exeter for 7-8 years. I couldn't understand a word until he wrote it down for me. I still didn't understand why he was excited that he had lived in Exeter, only realizing after our interchange that he must have thought I was British! He then asked if I was Catholic?... non, Protestant?... non. Bear in mind, I had read how to say that I was Jewish just the night before, thinking all the while that my roots would likely never come up in conversation here. I mean, what were the odds? I still couldn't get him to understand me. I drew a Star of David which left him baffled and then I think that he finally got it. I explained that I loved cathedrals (in my pidgeon French) and he seemed to understand. Loving beauty is a universal language. The interchange was charming. Enchante.

Dinan is best enjoyed on a sunny day! I have included a photo of the interior of the Basilica and also of the gate to the city in the sunshine.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Little Magic

The rain is persistent which is a bit disappointing, but Sarah and I went to a magical area yesterday. We went to the Forest of Paimpont- the ancient "Brocellande" where, according to the songs of the Middle Ages, the sorcerer Merlin and the fairy Viviane lived. The King Arthur legend has always held me captive, so I was happy to go to this forest. The weather didn't cooperate, but I did get some good resource for some future paintings and as luck would have it, when Sarah and I felt the need for lunch, a delightful restaurant appeared. There was indeed some charm in the day.

A new favorite vice has become a part of my life. Ile flottant is merigue floating in creme anglaise which Sarah dubbed the nectar of the gods. She is not far off with that accessment. Oh, yes, one more thing... it also has caramel drizzed over the whole dish. Life is good!

A little more magic occurred yesterday, I found out that my painting, "Veiled in Aspiration" won a merit award in the national juried show "Shades of Pastel," sponsored by the Maryland Pastel Society. You may see that painting by going to my website:

I have included a picture of the vice as well as an image of me in Dinan, one of the loveliest cities I have been fortunate to visit!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

One Week Minus 1 Day

My friend, and fellow artist, Sarah Pollock and I have been in Dinan for almost a week now. The house is Lilliputian and very French. Dinan is a much larger city than I expected and also VERY French

I have completed 1 painting and have gotten a good start on a second one. This makes me feel a bit less stressed with regard to meeting my goals while here. I have been gathering resource photos between the rain drops. The weather is, sadly, as I suspected it would be, cloudy, rainy and damp. That said, Dinan is a beautiful city and I am having a wonderful time. Sarah and I hope to go on a day trip to the shore. We are hoping to find crashing waves and granite cliffs.

I will leave you with a photo from our adventure and will be posting again in the near future. The photo is of the Rance River which passes right in front of our house. I snapped this shot during a break in the clouds which provided an interesting sky.

A Bientot!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


The title of this post says it all. We have made it! The flight was uneventful even though Air France personell went on strike the day before our trip. I was impressed with the service and even the food served onboard.Our intenerary indicated that we would be served breakfast on the seven-and-a-half hour trip. Instead, we received dinner and a light breakfast. I am accustomed to picking up some horrible airport food pre-flight. Imagine my surprise when a fairly tasty meal arrived complete with a bottle of red wine. The Airbus 380 is huge, so the cabin was not claustrophobia- inducing even with over 500 people onboard. Sarah and I arrived tired, but pleased that our bags journeyed with us, got the rental car and headed out. I was the driver while Sarah navigated. Our GPS seemed to be working fine until we got off on the incorrect exit and ended up driving around Paris for an hour. Somehow the GPS magically inserted another address for our destination which only became apparent to the two of us when the "finish line" flag came into view on the tiny screen. Apparently, the GPS had different plans than we did. I am grateful that I have driven so much in Washington, D.C. over the years since I was sleep-deprived and driving in Paris. Also grateful that I am a night owl.

Our hotel in Giverny is very French with thin walls but comfortable accomodations. We were able to visit Monet's house and gardens and stroll around the town which is tiny and lovely. Even saw some really nice contemporary art in two of the galleries in town. I guess it goes without saying that our dinner was delicious topped off with our first crepe of the trip.

On a sad note, I can't seem to upload images onto my blogger posts using my iPad. It is a great device with some limitations. I have spent time trying to work around this problem to no avail. Many apologies. I will keep working on this.... Thanks for understanding and reading! Au revoir!