Thursday, 29 April 2010

Flutterings and scrapings

   I am moving to last year's pigeon nest, the one that sits empty in the tree outside my window.  It has been my husband's springtime fever and my listlessness during the day, and at night his slow sleeping breathing while my mind races through long stretches of brambly thoughts, though sometimes to still pools of ideas.  It is impossible though, everything is made of nothing.  The uncertainty of where we'll go means that everything I touch is filled with doubt.  Only beginnings are assured.

   If I could slip out of here into that sky though, for a while, for the month of May maybe... lie in lilacs...

...and make the chimneys and the branches my landscape, instead of tired old streets.

   So I could be close and still far away.  Like the thrush who watches through the window some days.  Like the birds that made their nest in the ivy last year... who lived inside their arch-roofed palace of green, at once so big and so small, so close by and almost unseen.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Night by the River

   It's not quite dry yet, but the other night when the painting stopped, I found myself gazing at a giantess.  In a misty forest of immense Queen Anne's lace she crosses a stream next to a small fortified town.  The flower tops are brighter than stars and block out the moon, and some would call them bird's nest weed, mother die, bishop's lace, wild carrot, bees' nest, fools parsley, devil's plague, rantipole, or lace flower.
   This painting was begun late last summer I think, and it sat neglected for a long time.  Perhaps the only thing more frustrating than painting on top of black -- which drinks up every colour that goes on it and almost sucks the light right out of the room -- is trying to photograph something which has been painted on black, so I'll have to apologize for the quality of the photos.  There was nothing for it, no matter what lighting, angle, or camera setting I used each was worse than the one before.  Here is my best effort:

   (Click and then click again to Enlarge)

   This painting was even more than usual a learning experience, and if I ever paint on black again, I believe I will have a few things up my sleeve (or at least know a few things not to do!).  All the problems aside, I have always had a special affection for icons written on a black background, dark lacquered boxes, and the odd medieval saint painting I've found on black, so I wouldn't completely rule out trying it again some day. But not some day soon, I don't think. 
   Also a learning experience was spending some time today reading some of the associations Queen Anne's lace has, its use as a herb, and different names it has, which I found here.  You will also find some explanations of the name 'Queen Anne's lace' there.  I was only familiar with the story that Queen Anne was making lace when she pricked her finger, and the small, red flower you see in the middle was a drop of her blood.  But I really prefer the idea that the queen is the red flower in the middle, and the white flowers around constitute her enormous lace collar.  Though, it also makes a lot of sense that Queen Anne could refer instead to Saint Anne, who is the patron saint of lace makers.  I can't say that any of these bits of lore were meant to bear on the painting, but I thought I'd share them, since I always so enjoy that sort of information myself.
   And now I see the light is pouring in like golden honey, so it must be that hour of the evening when spices and steam and delicious smells waft out of the kitchen, and I had better be on my way.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Days That Sit Like Paintings

   Over here, I'm in the middle of a painting spell.  This week and next week are vacation weeks for Parisians, so the etching studio I go to is closed, and I'm busy trying to finish up some paintings that have been sitting idle for too long.  Hopefully I'll have something new to show here soon.

   On Saturday we set everything aside and went to a wedding.  In the evening, there was a dinner in a sort of industrial area north of Paris.  We arrived too early, and decided to stroll about since we were the only people around.  As we walked along a little path with grass on either side, I spied what I thought was a small black dog up ahead.  My husband and his uncle were caught up in a conversation.  As we came closer I realized it was a hen sitting next to the sidewalk, just like that, in the middle of all the big uniform buildings and roads.  I felt like we were in Chagall's Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel for a moment.

   As we came up to her, the chicken got up and walked a little ways away; she seemed in good health.
   Even stranger than finding a lone hen in a place like that was the reaction of my husband's uncle: he carried on like there was nothing the least bit out of the ordinary, maybe like he couldn't even see the bird at all.  So, I felt like I couldn't say anything either.  The rest of the evening continued in this vein, though I wish I could have gone on in the painting instead.  

   Spring is marching on too.  Now there are wisteria, and violets, and lilacs.  Any time now the horse chestnuts will be in bloom, which I love since I live near a street which is lined up and down with only horse chestnuts... it's lovely at night too when the magnified shadows of their huge leaves fall across the sidewalk as big as kitchen tables.  Yesterday an absolutely huge bumblebee flew in through an open window.  Not the striped kind we have in Canada, it looked like a small black bear with an orange bum.  I was delighted to see it whirring around noisily before it left out the window again.

   Tonight I hope we will go to the park and watch the sunset over the Seine.  I have been hearing about how the last time there was a volcanic eruption like the one in Iceland, there were twenty years (edit: two years!) of uncommonly beautiful sunsets.  Hopefully we will be so lucky as that.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The House Where the Automatons Live

   Sitting here with three musketeers outside the window... little girl musketeers shouting 'Une pour toutes, toutes pour une!' over and over.  One day we ate lunch outside and overheard them playing shop.  One stopped the other from sweeping, 'No, no!  A shop has to be dirty!'

   But, that's not what I meant to post about today.  Last week, since I had the task of showing some company around Paris, I decided that we should go to L'Hôtel Arturo Lopez, which is also a  museum of automatons.  The first time I came to Paris, shortly before moving here, this was one of my favourite places to visit.  My husband used to come here when he was a child, and had told me tales of a robot Humpty Dumpty who smoked real cigarettes.  It turned out to be the moon who smokes, and apparently even his lungs have suffered some damage, so he doesn't smoke these days, except on a video which plays next to him.... but all the same, it's a lovely place to be in.

When we visited this time though, the Museum was closed for some restoration, so these photos are what I happened to have on my computer from that first visit.  I felt badly for bringing us to a place where everything was closed.  When we arrived, the doors were open but no one was home, so at least we got to sneak through a bit of it.  The only people we saw were a little boy and an old woman having a violin lesson in a giant, mirrored hall, and a tired-looking woman (probably the mom) waiting down some grand stairs.  All the automatons were packed away, so even if we did enjoy seeing the lovely building -- which boasts a room where every inch of the walls, floor to ceiling, is covered in seashells and coral, arranged into patterns -- we missed out on the main purpose of our visit.

  So today, here are pictures of some of the automatons for everyone!

   I think most of the automatons still work, which is very impressive considering their age -- they all date to the second half of the 19th century, or the very early 20th century.  There are apparently 69 automatons in the collection, 40 of which were made by the Vichy family.  At the museum there are large group photos of this family all standing around with their automatons... I always find it fascinating to see families where everyone is dedicated to the same trade.  Originally the family business was clock making, but they switched over in the 1860s, a time when interest in luxurious toys for children was just beginning to blossom among the bourgeoisie of Europe.
   A very nice aspect of the museum is that, while only some of the automatons are moving at any given time, there are always videos of the non-operational automatons playing next to the display cases.  Unfortunately, I didn't make any videos myself to share here.  There is even one automaton which is a poet at a writing desk, and he is designed to write out an entire stanza of a poem in beautiful cursive! 
   The museum does not have a website of its own, but the city of Neuilly-sur-Seine (a suburb of Paris which is where Arturo Lopez's house is located) has a little bit of information about the museum on their website.  It's in French, but they have photos of a few additional automatons here and there are some photos of the house here.  Originally the house was in a Neo-Classical style, but in the 1930s M. Lopez went around modelling rooms after those at Versailles or other homes of French Royalty of various periods.  Arturo Lopez, besides having the good fortune to have such a lovely first name, worked for the Chilean Embassy, in case you were wondering.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Easter in Brittany

  Two weeks of guests and visiting and not a moment to spare, and now this place is quiet again.  Paris is greener and greener all the time, with new riots of leaves every morning... adding a bit of welcome privacy, fresh green walls for us who live in a ground floor apartment.  And in the tiny snatches of time I managed to find here and there, I painted up a new header... though it doesn't show up nearly so nice when it's on a computer screen.  The greens are practically grey, and all the little details and highlights are absent altogether. But I supposed it was time to make a proper header, as the last one (which lives on as a footer) was just a lino made a long time ago for a friend who liked to decorate her envelopes. 

   (My husband just came in to tell me about an old lady at the grocers who has a magnifying glass to inspect all the prices on the produce.  Oh, and I should mention that the photo above is from the Saint Sauveur church in Dinan.)

   During the Easter weekend, since we had company, we rented a car and went on a little trip over to Brittany.  We made the Saturday morning market in Rennes, which is so lovely in its square of little, leaning, half-timbered houses, overflowing with stalls of vegetables, flowers, fish, cheese, people making galettes in the backs of trucks, honey sellers, and groups of musicians singing and playing upright bass and accordions and things.  An old man sells homemade cider in bottles that look like they are four hundred years old, and very suspect.

    But we didn't stay in Rennes for long.  We headed off to Dinan, a lovely medieval town on a river which is picturesque beyond belief.  But then, we were happily rambling about before dinner, enjoying a break in the rain, when we came across something looming at the end of a street...  just like in an old painting, the mouth of hell.  Happily there were no tortured souls spilling out onto the road, but it was somewhat disconcerting none the less.  It must be terrible to be a child living on this street.

   After Dinan, it was off to St. Malo, a city built in the sea, by corsairs.  The island city is surrounded by high walls.  In the winter, at least when we were there last, the waves came crashing over the walls in parts, and the whole city seemed full of the drumming of waves.  This visit was much more serene, the tide was far out during the day and people strolled around in the sunshine.  We looked in on Jacques Cartier's tomb in the church and found Chateaubriand's grave looking out to sea on a nearby island that we walked to when the tide was out.  We peered into tide pools and thought about how we were walking on the floor of the sea, which is what we always do at the seaside.

  We also came across a hungry twosome,

and an old ship parked outside the city's walls.

    Not too far from St. Malo we visited the sculpted rocks of Abbé Fouré, a man who retired from priesthood after illnesses caused by a stroke, and then spent the rest of his years carving a rocky ledge by the sea.  Many of his sculptures are wearing away after more than a hundred years of exposure to the elements.  Henk at Outsider Environments Europe has an interesting post about it.

   After this, a few more stops at places by the sea, to look out over the waves, or eat some lunch, and some driving past old windmills, we arrived at another place built on an island (a little each day while the tide was out), the Mont St. Michel.  Here it is, towering above us, swarming with seagulls and crows (which you probably can't see in the photo, but they seem always to be circling, so you'll have to imagine).  It is connected by a causeway now, but there are plans to remove that, because of the damage that it is causing to the bay... so maybe in a little while it will be an island again.

   And inside of there, a tiny ship floats through a cathedral, which means thank you.