Tuesday, November 25, 2014


When I first moved to Paris, I didn't actually move to Paris. You see, Remi chose our apartment before I arrived - one that was close to the prestigious Gamma Photo Agency that he had been working with for years. We lived right on the other side of the Périphérique, the ring road that surrounds Paris proper, in a quiet suburban neighborhood (one that was shockingly so for this former Manhattanite). It was a ten to fifteen minute walk back to our flat from the metro, depending on which line we had taken, our moods and the weather. I remember strolling arm in arm on the way home from one of those rare evenings that we had spent in the City - for we were quite poor then - and looking with surprise at all of the apartments lining the boulevard with such strong overhead lights shining out of the windows (something that I still find odd) even in the finest buildings where chandeliers were quick with a wink. The figures inside showed up as distinctly as guests on a television show or figures in a Hopper painting, moving about their evening lives. "Don't they close the curtains?" I asked Remi with a nod upwards. "Eh, no," he responded. "Pourquoi?" Why wouldn't they? "Um, for privacy?" I asked again, my voice pitching upwards on the last word. Remi turned to give me one of those bemused smiles that we would often share in those early days, when the train tracks of our cultures would cross over and then part directions. 

Somehow that memory flooded back to me this evening as I dashed around and then through the puddles, umbrella gripped and my grocery bags pulling down my shoulders. Certainly with the rain, this tiny little village had already retired for the evening and as always, the lights were on and everyone was home. I am still prudish in the American way at such proximity, as if they could feel my stare and perhaps they could if I lingered long enough as so many of the houses hold their kitchens and living rooms on the ground floor, mere steps from the street. But I did pause to catch two separate glimpses both in overly remodeled homes with shiny floor tiles and yes, neon bolts of bright white overhead. In the first, at a house where I often see chalk drawings in the alley out front, I saw a small boy, already in his pyjamas but with a yellow bib still around his neck, seated at straw-thatched chair of children's height, low to the ground. In his hand, he held three cards and regarded them studiously with a tilt to his head as if the answers to all the world were within his grasp. I turned the corner and a few houses down, in one that had been newly rented this summer and where the Mother returned my only attempt at a "Bonjour" with a suspicious raised eyebrow, my glance was caught by a blur of movement. For there in the glow of a blue computer screen, also on a lower level to the floor, danced another boy, slightly older. His longish hair flew as his arms splayed wide, then overhead. He did a soft, unformed ballet leap. How pleased I was to know that happiness did in fact reside where I thought that it did not. 

These moments, seen so closely as if I had been simply remembering, were gathered gratefully as the rain fell down around me in the cover of night's dark.


As I was editing the above, I suddenly had a palm slap on the forehead of "Aha!" for I recognized and had to give credit where was due as Jaques Tati had already expressed this idea of modern French life on display long ago! Here is a tiny bit of "Playtime" a true favorite in this house, one that extends beyond language but is, as are all of his films (if only he had made more!) a fitting diorama of contemporary culture. 

Yes, you guessed it, in my weird little way, this is my Thanksgiving post. Sending much joy to all of you that will be celebrating it on Thursday...and actually to those of you who will not as well.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Down the rabbit hole

Once I discovered reading, as in really discovered the joys of it, I was a goner. Instantly, my near permanent "new kid" status didn't sting as much because I had entire worlds to explore and so many characters to befriend. That started at when I was around seven or so. We had moved into a big Victorian home (gigantic from a kids point of view) and my bedroom was in the former maid's quarters at the end of the hall near the back stairs to the kitchen. For some reason still unfathomable to me, as I am not nor ever was a princessey kind of girl, I chose pink as the main color theme when it came time to redecorate (this being one of the few rooms in the house that did not have the original wallpaper). Pink it became. And so perhaps it isn't so surprising now, looking back, to see how I took refuge in the cedar-lined closet instead. I would make a little nest out of dirty clothes and with the bare bulb overhead would read until the world around me faded away entirely. My Mom has told me that at times she had to call my name repeatedly before I would "snap to." And I still remember that feeling of being sucked back from wherever I was - walking down the street with David Copperfield - and being washed back up on the shore of that safe, small room within a room, blinking. In reading, sometimes I went so far into the weave of a story that the lines of reality blurred a bit. I was fuzzy on the edges. I would think, "I should call so and so" only to realize that I was thinking about one of the characters. 

That is how I have been feeling for the past few days. A different kind of limbo. I am deep in the pages of a book that many of you have read already (I am not saying which as I don't want anyone to give me even the tiniest suggestion as to what happens) and it is all I can do. Is read. Somehow this story has chained itself to my heart so strongly that I feel like I am carrying the book around with me even when I am not. I get lost and look at the clock and hours have passed. 

That can happen occasionally too with instagram. No, the hours don't pass - I am not that addicted! But I find a certain hum in the scrolling and scrolling with my thumb through peoples days, their lives and adventures. It feels oddly luxurious. I am sharing a few recent photos from my account as they are better suited for the mood that I am in. Less formal, not everything is in focus, which in itself is perfect for Provence, especially at this time of year. Little pieces of in-between or that's me, just down the rabbit hole.


Another thing that I appreciate about instagram is the swiftness with which information passes, quicker than a tin-can telephone! And so today, when Sara Louise (@cestmoisaralouise) posted a photo of her  canine friend Fifty, I was able to get in on the action. It turns out that if those of us who have adopted dogs post a photo on ig with the adoptee adorned in a red ribbon with the tags @anniemovie and #ImARescueToo, $1 will be donated to the ASPCA. Isn't that amazing? Ps. Something that I learned about him in taking this photo? That he was quite pleased wearing it - which rather surprised me and made me wonder if he didn't wear a bandana around his neck in his "previous" life. Something else that I learned about him later on in the day? Firecrackers truly piss him off. Eh, oui.

For those of you that already follow me on instagram - all 411 of you! Hooray! - I hope that you don't mind the photo repeats in this post too terribly. And for those of you that don't, feel free to join me at @lostinarles...
To everyone? Have a wonderful weekend...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Something out of nothing

The fog lay heavy on the high hills this morning, blocking my view. So it was a lovely surprise that as I sipped my tea, it slipped away or perhaps was chased by a bullying sun. We have had much rain in the past few days so I donned my thick boots, ready to battle the mud on my morning walk with the dogs. The humidity clung in the air and I could feel the curls springing on my head and tickling the back of my neck. As we passed the park, I paused to watch a group of tiny children of the barely walking age spin out from their keepers like starlings. One boy among them held up a red leaf as if he was seeing it for the very first time, as if it might be the greatest prize. And maybe he was right. I could hear their wordless murmurs bubbling into the air as I continued on my path. The light shined so clearly that I found beauty buried in puddles, in lines of fallen branches. No different from the small ones, then, filled with delectable wonder, that quiet flying hope.

As I have said before, for me fall is not a time of degeneration but of regeneration. And what a fantastic resource awaited me after I kicked off my mud-covered Tod's and opened up my email! The incredibly talented Vicki Archer is celebrating the sixth anniversary of her blog by offering a very cool e-book that she created for the occasion with the help of illustrator Leo Greenfield. Plus, she has completely redesigned her website and it too is a treasure-trove. Vicki is always ten if not twenty steps ahead of the game and yet she is extremely generous and genuine. You can read all about  the goings-on at http://vickiarcher.com/.

Jazz is autumn's song. A recent discovery is the duo of Airelle Besson and Nelson Veras. Plus, imagine my delight when I learned that this mini-documentary was filmed where the album was recorded...

...in Arles! 

So you see? In the little and the big, inspiration is everywhere, ours for the taking...

With my Best from Provence,

Friday, November 14, 2014

De Clergue à Picasso at the Musée Réattu - Arles

While many iconic modern painters have been drawn to the South of France solely for the quality of its light - Van Gogh, Matisse and Cezanne amongst them - Pablo Picasso also found in Arles the possibility to enjoy a favorite pastime from his Spanish youth. He came for the corridas or bull-fights presented in the Roman Arena during the Ferias and often brought famous friends such as Jean Cocteau along with him. There are photographs of him posing casually with his wife Jacqueline at the Malarte café and parting the crowds in the stands as if he were a toreador himself. 

In 1953, an ambitious young photographer, Lucien Clergue, cornered the maestro as he was leaving the Arena to show him a portrait that he had done. Picasso approved so heartily of the piece that he signed it and so a friendship between the two began. Clergue would go on to reach national acclaim with the presentation of his sumptuous nudes shot on the beaches of the nearby Camargue. In 1965, he masterminded the first collection of photography in a French museum for the Musée Réattu and was instrumental in launching the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie four years later. 

With time, a true dialogue developed between the two men. Ideas and themes were exchanged - both shared a fascination for harlequins and gypsies for example - as were works or art. Currently, over sixty pieces from Clergue's personal collection of Picasso works are being presented for the first time to the public within the exhibition titled, appropriately enough, "De Clergue à Picasso." 

Picasso and the museum have shared a link for some time. In 1971, the painter very generously donated 57 numbered and dated drawings to express his fondness for Arles, something that was quite a coup at the time. Those works, in addition to the painting Portrait of Maria Picasso Lopez which was donated by Jacqueline Picasso in 1985, are on permanent display (as well as being featured in the exhibition) and add a vibrant character to this small museum perched on the banks of the Rhone River.

If, like me, you have a preference for later periods in Picasso's work, you are in for a treat. In the drawings, etchings and linocuts presented, there is a simplicity and yet distinct lushness of line. The  interplay between the centuries old architecture of the museum and the electric modernity of the works is also attractive. Plus, the factor of discovering an unknown treasure is breath-taking. I was completely blown away by the richness and diversity of this private collection and I apologize as I was so intent on looking that my snap-happening was not (plus this is the precise moment when my little Canon G12 bit the dust). Admittedly, I have little to show that is convincing but please trust me and by all means do go if you are in the region as the exhibition is running until January 4th. 

It is also most certainly worth the effort just to see the Musée Réattu itself. Initially constructed in the 15th century, it was named a Grand Priory for the Knights of Malta in 1652 (I love to just casually toss out such facts about Arles..."Oh yes, that happened here too..."). Gargoyles loom overhead and I can always hear the knights footsteps marching up the wide stone staircases. But we have the painter Jaques Réattu to thank for it was he who bought the entirety of the property (27 lots in all) when it was sold during the French Revolution. In 1868, it became a museum that initially featured only his works (some of which are more successfully orchestrated than others). Slowly, the collections have grown and due to the active participation of such local heros as Clergue and the designer Christian Lacroix (whose wildly successful show in 2008 was a watershed moment for the museum), its future is far brighter than its past. I always suggest for visitors to go, for I am really fond of what it has become. No one listens to me but they should and certainly right now in order to delight in the exceptional viewing of "De Clergue à Picasso." The bond between them is evident and it is a delight to peek inside the more private creative lives of these two artists and their love of this corner of Provence.

A sad UPDATE: Mr. Lucien Clergue passed away the day after I posted this at the age of 80 years old. I often saw him strolling the streets of Arles and it was evident that even if he no longer was carrying a camera in hand, he was always searching for an image with the eye of a true artist. His battle was to prove that photography be recognized as valid art medium rather than being considered a "lesser art" both in France and abroad. In 2007, he was the first person to be elected to the prestigious Académie des Beaux Arts for photography and for 2013 he was its chairman. He published over 75 books during his career and his work has been featured at numerous galleries and museums, including a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City that was curated by Edward Steichen in 1961. His friendship with Picasso lasted thirty years, until the painters death.

Pour mes amis francophones, il y a un video intéressant sur son façon de travailler: ici.

And if you don't believe me, just look at the comments in the guest book below...Ginette, who is 102 years old declared that it was fabulous...

De Clergue à Picasso
Musée Réattu
10 rue du Grand Prieuré
13200 Arles, France
Tel.: (+33) 04 90 49 37 58
Open 10am to 5pm, Closed Mondays
Until January 4th 2015
Tickets are 7€ per person

I just found this, it is a little wonky but gets the basics across:

I hope that your weekend is filled with inspiration...Olé!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A bit of Provençal perfect

I have been quite lucky in my life.

There have been dreams that have come true, much love shared and bouquets of incredible experiences. But when Marsha at Splenderosa asked that I describe one of my very best days for the By Invitation Only series, my mind immediately darted to that of my 35th birthday...in Botswana...helping to produce an ad that Remi shot so amazingly for Apple amidst a herd of elephants...followed by champagne and my spotting the lions on a safari before heading home to France. Yep, that happened. But there is one wee hiccup in that I have already written about that day (you can read about it here).

So...that got me thinking...what if I didn't talk about one of my most important days - such as meeting Remi - but just a really good one instead? Does best necessarily mean biggest? Nope. Living in Provence has changed my outlook utterly on that subject in that opportunities are nearly everywhere to live something wonderful if only we slow down enough to let them happen. And they are often tucked into small corners. I am learning not to chase after happiness with the determination of a toreador hunting down a bull but rather to just enjoy the surprise of it when it arrives. The "Oh, there you are" moment. And yes, this land is propitious for that particular prosperity...but I secretly suspect that it is the case nearly everywhere. Non? 

We have had many picnics with our friends M and B. Since quite a while. Now, I know that I sound like a broken record..."Oh no, not that again! Picnics? So quaint, so 'charmingly' Old School," you might be thinking with an exasperated sigh...but have you ever noticed that the skips on a broken record always happen on the best songs? A-ha! With our friends we share an unspoken agreement that there is nothing finer than getting together in a beautiful environment with delicious food and wine to spend a few hours relaxing and enjoying each other's company. There is no technology involved and beyond securing the basics, money doesn't come into play (for I have been to heavily catered affairs with crystal and silver and they don't necessarily make a picnic better, just more elegant). Plus, that une sieste is practically a given at some point during the gathering doesn't hurt...

On this particular day, Remi suggested that we meet up at a secret endroit that he had discovered in the Alpilles...

Some kind soul had constructed a table and benches out of massive stone blocks under the shade of bending trees in the middle of an olive grove. The setting is exceptional, even by Provençal standards. The sole stipulation is scrawled on a sign asking that we "respect the nature" and to clean up after we have gone. Mais bien sûr, pas de problème. I clapped my hands with delight when I came up over the hill to see that the spot was ours for the taking. 

It wasn't too hot nor too cool, nor was it a particularly sunny day but then again, sometimes cloudy days are best. The light left dancing dalmatian spots on the carefully spread cloth. M and B brought most of the provisions, many of which had been carefully selected that morning from the vendors at the excellent Les Halles market in the center of Nîmes. 

I watched the pleasure spread over their faces as they unpacked each item, especially those which they know are our favorites such as the tangy caviar des tomates, flaky fougasse, olives brined with garlic, cherries that leave stains on fingertips...eh, oui...des délices!

The wine, a surprisingly dry Muscat harvested near Uzés, was popped and then sipped slowly to take in our environs with the quiet regard that it deserved. One bottle later and we were ready to tuck into a tender roasted chicken along with B's crunchily sweet German potato salad. Such a treat and yet classic picnic fare. Do I remember what I brought that day? I have no idea. But I can bet that it was good.

We nibbled...at the food...at the conversation...at ideas floating and jokes landing hard. 

Ben and Kipling were with us of course, stationed at our feet, pretending to be asleep while keeping an eye out for any morsel that happened to fall off the table. I let a few fall on purpose and I wasn't the only one.

We came equipped with glasses and plates, wine openers and cushions. We are picnic professionals, you see. In our comfort, we stayed in the unforced way that only comes about with true friends, those who are patient with contentedness. 

An angel of silence flew over our heads without a ruffle or a snore. We all know by now not to plan anything else for the rest of the day as these get-togethers can last for hours. This one did. The sun came out, it ducked behind again. The clouds were listening in and mopping up the birdsong.

At times, even after all of these years, I still need to give my brain a rest from translating into French. Remi and our friends are used to my taking a break from the conversation and continued on without me. I smoothed my wrinkled thoughts by looking, occasionally getting up to take a photo or two, until I found my words again.

Being amidst company who accepts you just as you are is a boon in itself and Ben wasn't the only one who couldn't stop smiling. Besides, a toothy grin makes it all the easier for that sneaky devil happiness to catch me unaware and hold me tight. Remi recently described such moments as ones "that you want to float in" which couldn't be more apt. There were many of them that day.


If I had to pick a reason why, I would be left with a Gallic shrug but somehow, it was pretty much a perfect picnic. We joked about it at the time, "How can we possibly top this?" Psshh...why try? We knew our good fortune and it is one of the reasons why we all get along so well, because...we always do. 

That was a few months ago. The temperatures have finally dropped and most likely we will have to wait several months before our tradition continues. But when I gaze at these photos now, such solid talismans, I can still hear our laughing as it rebounded against those protective trees. Perhaps that was the final, magic ingredient needed to alchemize one day of good into a sweet little Best.

to listen:

I am sure that there are going to be some really lovely posts on this theme. To see what the other members of our international blog party have cooked up, please click here.

Thank you for being here and for the overwhelming response by comments and emails for my very first giveaway!

I am happy to announce that the winner of Ann Mah's fantastic book "Mastering the Art of French Eating" is:
Wendy Wong of Vancouver, Canada

Wendy, would you be so kind as to email me with your mailing address so that I can send it to you?

I am taking a moment to thank all that have served on this Veteran's Day, Armistice Day and Remembrance Day...

With my very Best from Provence,

Friday, November 7, 2014

Chicago ink

The trains hummed us into Chicago and sang us into a trance while we traced its streets. It was too quick of a trip but one of necessity. My eyes were focused on the need to do and so, in squinting, the city's background bled into ink. The rain, the fog, the curving steel haze; all shining surfaces lit from within.

We missed our return train despite our best intentions, despite having arrived at what we thought was an hour ahead. Not wanting to simply wait, we decided to roam.

 I like Chicago, I always have. I remember my Mom's reassuring hand on my shoulder as I peered into the Thorne Miniature rooms at the Chicago Institute when I was about ten or so. And here she was at my side once more, her presence as loving as always. "Take the photo," she encouraged. I did so over and over, blinking back to stay present. To be with her and on my own, grateful for both. Then as now, our gazes eventually lifted upwards. It is that kind of town.

My bag was heavy and I shifted it from shoulder to shoulder. Walking on, we were stuck in the Loop. But the city's buoyant energy pushed back against the clouds, a mid-western expansiveness snaking between the buildings like the L above. We tucked into a coffee shop and from our perch behind a plate glass window watched the crowds. We exchanged gossipy guesses as to what each individual story might be, printed on the inside in that indigo blue. 

My Mom slowly flipped the pages of a magazine as the train rolled out of the station, through the tunnels pummeled with commuters until Chicago pulled away. I gazed out the window, tired but content, as the night fell to black. My heart echoed the wheels on the tracks...thump thump...bump bump...thump thump...bump bump...how wonderful it had been to be in a big city again.

I am going to mix in some of the stories that I photographed while in the States with my regular Provence-y business until my camera situation is worked out...I hope that you will stay with me...

And you still have time to enter in the giveaway for Ann Mah's wonderful book, "Mastering the Art of French Eating" - just leave a comment below or email me at robinsonheather (at ) yahoo.com to express your interest. Thank you for all of the wonderful responses so far! A winner will be announced next Tuesday.

Have a fantastic weekend...