Saturday, December 31, 2011

Baby, let the stars shine bright

As the afternoon slides towards night, I will look forward to saying hello 2012! And also, goodbye Pentax. You see, Santa was kind to me, so I am going to have a brand new camera to discover and more photographs to share with you of my corner of the world.

Wherever you are and whomever you are with, please know that I am sending my heartfelt wishes for the year ahead. May we all have good health, feel the warmth of love and the prickly sensation of adventure! As always, may hope lift you and guide you onwards.

With much gratitude and happiness in my heart...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

One last surprise for Christmas...

Ah, the gifts, they just kept a'coming and a'going. But even Ben didn't know what to think of the big box that arrived just in time for Christmas.

When I saw the label on the box, I let out a squeal of joy. My lamp! And it truly is for me. Let me explain.

At the end of September, I was feeling lucky. Or maybe I can be honest and say that I was determined to be lucky after three really long years of more downs than ups. As part of trying to force my hand, I blatantly entered a give away by the fabulously talented Karena of Art by Karena, whose generosity of spirit is well-known in this oddly named 'blogosphere'. Now, I am not a contest girl, surtout pas. Anything involving competition, well, I was the last girl to get picked for any given sport, you get the idea. But holy cow, when I saw that there was actually a give away, as in yes, maybe you, little ol'you, can get something for nothing (a concept that I still eye suspiciously) that was sponsored by none other than the riotously glamorous Francine Gardner, founder of the design company Interieurs, I leapt at the chance.  

And the fates decided, ok, let's give this one a bit of encouragement. I won! Truly, I think there were nearly 800 others vying for the phenomenal opportunity to claim a basket lamp created by José Esteves. Now, if this weren't already a lovely enough story, here is where it gets even better. Karena kindly passed my contact info on to Francine and at the same time I discovered her blog, Art de Vivre, a must for anyone interested in travel and great design. Emails exchanged, time passed. Honestly, I was so interested in her story that I forgot about the lamp. She had just climbed Kilimanjaro! The long way around! After a few months, she admitted why there was a delay...well, Interieurs had actually run out of stock of the lamp and so she had asked Mr. Esteves, who has his studio in France, to make one for me and send it on directly. Isn't that amazing? And yes, the lamp is too.  Of far greater pedigree than most of our patina pieces, it nonetheless fits right in, spreading out the most gorgeous webs of shadow across my favorite Henri IV lithograph, as if we have always had it. Which makes me enormously happy. So thank you, thank you Karena, Francine and José Esteves! 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Cold Christmas Walk

Up from the Christmas lunch table at 4pm. Just in time to catch the golden tips of the afternoon sweeping across the Alpilles. It is cold enough to shake us from our sluggishness and yet sunny enough to keep the peace. Strolling in pairs, then alone. Talking, then quiet. Completely content.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Close your eyes...

...and make a wish!

Joy to the world.
Peace on Earth.
And love, love, love. 

To all of my dear friends and readers that are celebrating, I hope that you have a very, Merry Christmas!

With all of our Very Best from Arles,
Heather, Remi and Ben

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Big gifts in small packages

This is just a tiny post for any of you that might be in "it's not enough" mode.

Yes, you know who you are and you know very well that I am referring to "I haven't bought enough presents." I even fell victim to it myself last weekend and frantically sent off one last gift to my Mom and Sister, as they frankly deserve any gift that money can buy. But that isn't really the point and we all know that. 

So a little reminder for myself and anyone else who needs it to take stock in the little joys that often get overlooked during the lambast of the holidays. Every morning I look forward to seeing what progress my two hyacinths have made in the night. Can I smell them yet? Not yet, but soon. At today's outdoor market, I stocked up on more of two staples that hit their peak at this time of year, sweet clementines from Corsica and earthy walnuts from Grenoble. The sassy Mrs. Claus finger puppet that my Sister sent me makes me smile so many times a day. I created a little woodland scene for her on my desk. And finally, the surprise of finding that my flower seller had added a bouquet of chartreuse ping-ponged mimosas in my package, doubly charming as they normally don't flower until February! 

So you see, these little gifts are as good as jewels, finally. It's enough and so are you. Now it is time to step back and be present (which is a present) for the ones you love.

I also want to send out a wish for a very happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends and readers. As Bruce Barone recently commented here, "Let there be light!"

Monday, December 19, 2011

Monster in my Living Room

There is a monster in my living room. It is our Christmas tree. 

Remi picked it out this year. 

This makes the seventh Christmas that we have bought our tree from the Mountain Man of the Ardeche. Yes, we have our faults but we are ridiculously loyal. It seems the very least we can do for his efforts of filling up his rusted white van full of sapins de Noêl in the middle of the night and making the five hour drive so as to arrive in time for our Wednesday market. He never disappoints, neither the man nor his trees. His face is as craggy as the mountain that he comes from and is nearly covered with hair, his teeth have been worn down to daggers. But he was so pleased to see us again! He clapped his hands together and smiled. It always feels so good to be remembered, doesn't it? 

And his trees! Well, this year Remi had suggested, wisely, that we get a smaller tree as we have less space in this new apartment so we headed over to the "small" section, a bargain at only 30€ a pop. I ran to get cash while Remi selected carefully. After promises of "à l'année prochaine" and a wave, we carried it home between us. With Ben trotting at our side, I felt very much the little family out of a JCrew ad, something I highly doubt I will ever feel again. 

Imagine my surprise when we brought the tree into the apartment and it fit under the ceiling with barely an inch to spare. Wasn't this supposed to be a smaller tree? And then we opened it up and it is as skinny as a Czech supermodel. "I like it," Remi said, clearly proud of his choice, "it is different, very Zen." Different it most certainly is but that is also why I call it a monster. It is, poor thing, quite simply the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree...on steroids. 

*For the following little epilogue, for those you that are wanting to stay in the fairy dust land of the holiday season, please feel free to skip it. I won't blame you in the least. Ditto if you are simply too busy!*

And while vaguely on the subject of cultural differences, I had a conversation this morning while I was out on my morning walk with Ben that was odd on so many levels that it is worth repeating. I was in a great mood, the sky was blazing blue and I had my camera out, ready to take some photos. A man stopped to compliment me on Ben but I quickly realized that he had confused him with a dog that is similar in appearance but actually belongs to the Roma or Gypsy camp outside of town. This dog is very sweet and makes the rounds to the shops for attention and scraps. I said that it is surprising that he is so docile and well-trained. The man puffed up his chest and said, "Not all Gypsies are dirty you know. Where are you from?" When I replied that I was American (curious to see where this was going) he responded, "Well, that is the difference between your society and mine. Here in France we do not make such gross assumptions about people as you Americans do, where black is black and white is white." Now, I knew that I should have stopped this exchange right away by explaining that I am not in the habit of confusing people with their dogs but I couldn't help myself. "Excuse me, but how can you say such a thing when France remains an incredibly racist country? We are in a region where nearly 30% of the population votes for the FN (the Front National Party) which wants to sweep all of the immigrants out of the country..." I paused, stupefied and also because I realized that I was raising my voice. "This is not about racism!" he yelled, now also angry. "You see? A good conversation turned ugly," I said with a shrug as I turned my back and continued down the street. For the record, I don't have a problem with the Gypsies but their dogs are often aggressive as they are trained to guard the camps. Sheesh. Why is it, after so many years of living in France that it still makes me so very angry when someone makes a gross generalization about the United States? Every single time I hear "you Americans" my skin crawls. My country is so huge and holds such a wide range of religions and cultures, styles and modus operandi. Please don't put us in a box, that is unless you are willing to wrap it up with a big bow to put it under my Monster Tree. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Before and After: Our apartment!

Grab a glass of wine because it is time to take a break from the holiday rush for everyone's favorite--a "Before" and "After" about our apartment. Now, I would say our "new" rental but we did move in at the end of July and we are quickly approaching the end of the year! So, although the photos are not the quality that I would like (the rooms look small, they are not) and the decorating is not finished (where oh where is my chandelier), here we go!

As those of you who have been reading for a while know, we were excited by the photos that we had seen in the real estate agent's ad. It looked like exactly like what we had been hoping for and we pressured him hard so as to be the first to visit it. So imagine our surprise when we walked in and found this...


Heehee, you weren't expecting that now were you? Three futons, the empty bottles, a refrigerator by the fireplace and a whole lot of sadness. The white stucco walls had been repainted only as high as someone could reach. I could smell the cat. With planning and elbow grease, we changed the space to this...


(This is an early photo from this angle as the lithograph is now hung and I have made a linen underskirt for the white table behind the sofa)

In one corner, a closet had been partially covered in stucco that was peeling. We removed that but left the patina behind. Yes, some of our friends think that we are odd.



A view looking towards the "kitchen", which is in truth an alcove in the living room. What on earth to do for a couple that cooks as much as we do? Cry? Well, Remi really used his thinking cap and I'll do a separate post soon. We did take the stucco off half of the facing wall, put in cabinets and appliances (they are not often supplied for rentals in France).



One of Remi's best ideas was to use the old shutters that were previously our headboard as a means of pulling out the space while still retaining a bit of privacy from the kitchen. Behind them we installed a simple stainless steel cart from Ikea that holds all of our pots and pans below, veggies and wine above.

I knew that I would be spending most of my time in the salon or small living room as soon as I saw this photo in the ad.


Do I really need to say anything about my feelings when we visited? Truly, I wanted to give those students a kick in the pants right then and there and save this lovely apartment.


So here we are today. As for all of the photos, I just took them on regular ol' days when I thought that the light was pretty. No special pillows or styling as you can see. If anything there is too much light! More than the little Pentax can handle. 

As with the living room, we scrapped all of the stucco on the outside wall and painted the rest of the walls "Chanvre" by Tollens. We were delighted with the quality of the paint and it was well worth the investment. When you live with a photographer, the light needs to reflect just so...

(Oops, another old photo. Yes, we have put the "Maharajahs" to right.)

Remi's office (seen in the doorway) is, shall we say, still not available for viewing. Ah-hem. But you can see the big architectural piece where we keep his prints with our big mirror above it. And yep, here is my little desk where I write! I can't tell you how hard it was to find the right piece of wood to make that photo railing. In the States, poof, we would have found it ready made. We have recently been given some wonderful gifts by friends that are moving, including this club chair and brass standing lamp. Remi had that deep attachment to our former club that only men can have but when the bottom fell through, reason won out.

(I wish the photo better reflected that the paint perfectly matches the aged paper on this Four Seasons series. Winter is on the bottom and I love reading with a bear peering over my shoulder. Delightfully, no longer in this chair.)



Well, it still isn't exceptional enough to merit a large photo but we scraped the paint off of the glass door, removed the linoleum, painted the walls Sesame (also by Tollens), installed cabinets and these glass shelves holding more bits from our travels, including the pair of carved bone buddies, bought in Bali and originally from the island of Sumba. The great news? The owner's of the apartment recently stopped by for a visit and were so pleased with what they had done that they are willing to renovate the bathroom!



How happy was I to put up these three classical drawings? Very. Along with the pair of African heads and Remi's crocodile skull, it all gives the entry the oomph I was hoping for. The walls are "Muscade" by Tollens and are lovely in the evening. 

Looking towards the bathroom, Remi built the shelves in a doorway that we had closed off...

And back towards the salon...

Oh, and let's not forget the lantern that I wrote about here.


Now thankfully, the students used this room as a work-space so it was less, sigh, well, you know than the others. Still. Time to make it ours so we installed an alabaster light fixture from the 1930s (yes, I know that the chain is too short, I'll fix that eventually) and painted the walls "Teatime" (still Tollens). Now, never in my wildest dreams could I have guessed that the ivory tone would come out with a soft pink hue to it but it did. So for all of our very careful masculine/feminine balance, I got my girly bedroom. 


We only recently put up the ciel de lit, one of the things that held me up from doing this post. Can you believe that I found it at that Depot-Vente in Eygalieres for 40€? Score! I also decided to give up on having the money to make curtains out of the Nina Campbell fabric that I had bought truly for a song on ebay UK and just swooped it up and around the frame. In the summer, we had our silk coverlet from Angkor on the bed, now thanks to the generous gift of a headboard and a matching bench from our friends, we have gone with something simpler. 

Try as I might, I cannot get this right, photographically. But yes, that is Ben's "bed" and that will be my makeup table once I fix the chair's also saggy bottom.

So to wrap up, let's go back to the apartment's main feature that called to us, the enfillade or stretch of rooms opening one after the other. 



Tah-dah! I hope that you enjoyed this little walk through the apartment, past and present, with me. Yes, it may have been a decided "down-sizing" but I can say with all joy, that it most certainly now feels like home!