Friday, August 30, 2013

Walking in the paths of Van Gogh

When Remi first made the fateful suggestion that we swing by the town of Arles on our way home from the Visa Pour L'Image Photography Festival in 2003, one name flashed into my mind: Vincent Van Gogh. It was reason enough for me to quickly agree, as I used to regularly visit his masterpieces at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and MOMA in Manhattan (and I still make pilgrimages to say hello whenever I return for a visit). I was only vaguely impressed by the town's Roman monuments but was immediately transported by the light, his light. It was one of the reasons why we fell in love with this small Provençal town.

Van Gogh only lived in Arles for a year and yet it was the most prolific period of his career. He was as equally inspired by the color found in the landscapes as he was by the city's seamier underbelly. He was a believer and wished to create an atelier du Midi, an artist's collective similar to that which Claude Monet had formed in Giverny. After months of insistent demanding, Paul Gaugin joined him and yet it was immediately clear that he was not willing to stay. Their fighting increased until it lead to "the ear incident" where, in a fit of rage and despair, Van Gogh cut off a part of his left ear (most scholars agree that it was a little bit more than the lobe). When Gaugin found him passed out in a pool of blood later that evening, he hired several young men to carry him to the Hôtel Dieu.

During his recovery, thirty townspeople signed a petition against the fou roux or red-headed madman, which lead to the closing of his carefully decorated Yellow House (later bombed by the Americans during World War II). After a brief interval, Van Gogh agreed to leave Arles and enter the Saint-Paul de Mausole hospital, located over the Alpilles hills in St.-Rémy-de-Provence. 

He stayed for over a year and created one hundred paintings and as many drawings while there. Initially, his treatment forbade him from leaving the closed gardens...

...and the magnificent 11th century cloister. Unsurprisingly, they became frequent subjects of his pieces... did the view from the series of rooms that his Brother, Theo, had requested.

The first was his bedroom, the second his studio and then an additional room was added in which to stack up his quickly accumulating canvases.

Initially, Vincent felt that his medical treatment was a success and he was eventually allowed to paint in the fields and olive groves outside of the asylum's walls. Today, there are plaques throughout (as well as in Arles) that indicate the precise spot that had inspired certain scenes. 

It is as thrilling as the surrounding lavender garden is calming to the senses. This land has been sacred ground for over one thousand years and that enduring peace is pervasive.

Unfortunately, during the end of his stay, Vincent suffered a severe relapse and after just over one year of treatment, he left the hospital to be closer to Doctor Gachet in Auvers-sur-Oise. His life ended two months later.

By all accounts, Vincent Van Gogh took great solace in nature during his stay. His greatest masterworks were created at St. Paul, including, Starry Night, The Irises and Vincent's Room in Arles.

This corner of Provence is still largely what it was during his time there and yes, the beauty remains. St. Paul continues on as an active psychiatric hospital. I often see some of their patients out for a guided walk through Arles on a Tuesday.

Inspired by their most famous occupant, the Valetudo Association has been helping the patients of the asylum demystify their illness through the use of art therapy. The site's boutique offers their work for sale. It is a beautiful link to the past, one creating a positive future and a living piece of the vibrant legacy of Vincent Van Gogh.

Maison de santé Saint-Paul de Mausole
Route des Baux, St.-Rémy-de-Provence
Website in English: please click here.
Site en français: veuillez cliquer ici.
A portion of the site is open to visits from the public and it is well worthwhile.

This seemed like an appropriate post for the end of Summer and the beginning of Autumn as well as a fitting follow-up to my previous post. Thank you all for your wonderful comments.
For those in the States, I am wishing you all a wonderful Labor Day weekend. 
May it be a peaceful one for us all.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Freedom and tenderness

Do you have seventeen and a half minutes to spare?

That is the duration of  Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic "I have a dream" speech. You might think that you know it, on this, the 50th anniversary from when it was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial but then again, you might be surprised. If you actually listen to it, to him, in its entirety, well, it is the true essence of the best of what we can achieve in our limited existence. I can't not show up today to talk about this. Here is a link to watch it and if you can get through it without tears, you are of sterner stuff than I. We have come far, we have far to go.

(I chose this link as it also has the speech written out below, it is breathtaking in its beauty and power)

But I have a second lien for you today, another that touched me deeply, in such a quiet way that I had to strain to hear. And yet the words are echoing through me. My friend Aidan first brought my attention to the podcast On Being with Krista Tippett, I believe it was for the exceptional interview that she did with Brene Brown on vulnerability. Since then I tune in weekly while I iron. Today, I listened to Jean Vanier, who is the founder of L'Arche, a system of communities in 40 countries that works with the developmentally disabled. He spoke of how those that were not so long ago immediately shut away in asylums have much to teach us about what it is to be human. It is also very much worth your time and I agree that there is a profound Wisdom in Tenderness. 

It was really something to hear both of these on the same day, overlapping despite the stylistic differences. So again, much good has been done but it is up to each of us to keep passing it along. I think. N'est ce pas?

I am very surprised and grateful for the recent influx of new email subscribers. Not to worry, I don't spend too much time up on my soapbox--at all actually--but if you are here, well, we might just be of like minds.
With all of my Best from Arles,

Monday, August 26, 2013


There are words that, after all of this time in France, still twist between my tongue when speaking or dart out of reach when typing. Abracadabrant, is one. I casually tossed out to my Mom that I was pretty sure that it meant something along the lines of "everything but nothing at the same time." However, Wiktionary swung me wildly back to Planet Earth by declaring, rather, "ludicrous, preposterous." Oops. Or as the French say, "oups." Perhaps those two definitions are not so entirely far a part from each other in the immaterial dreamloop that I have had on repeat as of late?

And yet it was with feet solidly on the ground--one two, one two, huphuphup--that Remi, the puppers and I went for a rather lengthy hike in the hills of the Alpilles yesterday evening. The clouds were playful and I was grateful for the shapes of shade and the cooling wisps of...silence. I have become convinced that we are suffering from noise poisoning in our apartment in the center of Arles. One that somehow trumps my former residence off Time Square for it's determined non-stoppedness. Not so in the Alpilles, especially along the paths of this inconnu corner far from all... for one truly envy-inspiring home with an eagle's nest view and an infinity pool that I seriously considered walking down and falling in to. Would they mind? Probably. I kept walking.

How I love the tug between above and below. 

As we climbed, the olive groves smeared into Seurat dots, marbles rolling across a plain.

We zig-zagged over the trail, ankles wobbling dangerously, dogs panting noisely...

...until we reached the upper crest, at such an altitude that sprigs of wild lavender had sprouted, surprising us with their smoky sweet scent.

Quieted, I saw a landscape that was preposterous in its beauty. Abracadabrantesque? Absolutely.

Just like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. 


Now, while my vocabulary might be as slippery as an eel, there are times when I know EXACTLY what I am saying and this would be one of them, so please do gather 'round and listen up. 

I believe that most of you that have been reading here for some time get as big of a kick out of the comments and stories left by David Terry as I do. But have you ever clicked over to discover what a truly unique and wonderful artist he is? If not, there has never been a better time to do so. You see, the lovely Sharon Santoni of the exceptional blog My French Country Home is offering a giveaway of one of David's portraits, to be commissioned by the winner. 

Remi and I are the proud owner of three of David's works and I can assure you that they are far more beautiful in person that his website can portray. As his pieces can sell for up to thousands of dollars, this is quite an opportunity. So what are you waiting for? 

To enter (and see the portrait of Ben and Kipling that Sharon included in her post), please click here.
To discover David's work, please click here.

But do hurry, I believe that you only have until next Saturday.


Have a wonderful week everyone...

Friday, August 23, 2013

Suspended in amber

For various reasons, it has been a bit of the Summer that Wasn't. No visits to the beach with sandy puppers in tow or rosé-drenched apéro's in a flowerly bower. In a certain sense, we knew it would be so--it was in the Planning as Remi is knee-deep, slowly pushing a three year long project into home, leaving me a loopy amount of time to reason and read. And so I have been taking in the words, taking in the words until I am full and restless. Quand c'est trop, c'est trop.

In this lull of in-between, I have let myself get trapped in amber, like a prehistoric fly. In my emptiness, I have built up a routine to create structure in all of this floppy space. A very relaxed version of métro, boulot, dodo. Dullness weighs my body down and thoughts cease to swing. Yes, there are elements of routine in Arles that have a perfume of gorgeousness about them but if I am not seeing them, well, I might as well be sleepwalking anywhere. Luckily my camera can rearrange my focus when I cannot.

The streets of Arles are solid but also shady and shaking. I have lived here for eight years now, quite some time for a nomad like me. I walk them in patterns and loops, where the dogs lead, I follow. That too can be dulling blind until the light shifts and on the wall in front of me and an angle aligns or a sign is revealed, one that I had somehow never seen. A bit of magic and blink are the must of these little gifts. It is a moment that inevitably makes me smile and snaps the amber quick to set me buzzing free.

"I rather would entreat thy company
To see the wonders of the world abroad,
Than, living dully sluggardized at home,
Wear out thy youth with shapeless idleness."

--The Two Gentlemen of Verona, William Shakespeare

So no great adventures for the moment, friends, just little, local ones.
Thanks for being along for the ride.
Have a wonderful weekend.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A rose by another name

A rose by another name and yet it calls with a scent so sweet. To fall into a color, it's warmth like a dip into the sea. 

I need perfume in my life, in all of its forms. Admittedly, it is my olfactory coffee or glass of wine, seeing me through from morning until night. But those liquid elixirs that we dab and spritz--or walk through in a cloud à la française--what magic they make. I have been thinking about this since yesterday, after reading yet another fine post by Lanier Smith at Sents Memory. While Lanier usually writes an exquisite short story inspired by a certain perfume before reviewing it, yesterday's discussion fell to the House of Guerlain, one of my favorites as their long-standing use of quality ingredients endears their products to my fickle red-head skin. 

Different scents for different lives within lives or even lives within a day. It is a tool of the least utilitarian sort possible, to cajole or coax or proclaim certain aspects of who we are or wish to be. When I was acting, I would always choose a perfume for my character (my favorite match being Fendi's "Theorema" for the role of Cleopatra) and a quick inhale at the wrist backstage would always cement me in the circumstances. These days with my memory as wobbly as a child in her mother's heels, I can reach back in time via certain perfumes as directly as Proust biting into that spongy madeleine.

A bag made of red voile is tucked in the back of my medecine cabinet, one that previously held a welcomed gift of Rouge Hermes from my sweetheart but now is a retirement home for nearly empty bottles of deeply loved scents. I pulled it down gingerly, knowing that I had something from Guerlain in there. Ah yes, Jicky. Created in 1889, it was something of a revolution, being one of the very first to use a mix of essential oils and synthetic molecules and the first to be designated by the word perfume. Take that, Coco Chanel. 

I annointed myself with the tiniest bit and inhaled. It smelled differently somehow! Had it turned? No. Had I changed? Yes and no but that wasn't it. But oh, it felt wonderful to be wearing it again, to be wrapped in something so...familiar...Later in the day that nagging feeling hadn't left me. A quick search on the internet gave me the answer--Jicky's olfactory notes? Lavender, rosemary, bergamot, rose. Yes! La Provence! How hadn't I thought of it sooner?

In this context, it evokes something else entirely than when I wore it roaming the steely corridors of Manhattan. I no longer need a ticket to escape but can take in the blossoming roses all around me. A rose by another name and yet still as sweet.

I am wearing it now...

"... O! be some other name:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself."

--Act Two, Scene Two. "Romeo and Juliet" by William Shakespeare

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Saturday treasures, part three

Hungry? These are just the leftovers, taken to illustrate my guest post at the amazing D.A. Wolf's Daily Plate of Crazy, one that responds to her insightful post on American's waste of food.

To see D. A.'s post: click here.
To read me waxing lyrical about Provençal markets: click here.

Still hungry? 

For the original Saturday Treasures, click here and here!

I'm off to the market. I may even brave a visit to the Flower Man...

Have a wonderful weekend! Enjoy et Bon Appetite!