Saturday, October 31, 2015

Oh my, goodness - part deux

Oh my goodness, I am so excited.

This will be a short post. I know, it is Halloween and many of you are most likely no where near your computers but rather are carving pumpkins, sneaking bonbons and crafting smoking cocktails, as you should be. Hopefully these slightly moody photos will fit the bill? But they actually are an antipode to what I am feeling...

...for today is a wonderful day - yes, yes, beyond the celebration of the spooky and unknown, which delights me to no end in itself - for you see, my friend Ellie is packing up the truck to leave Paris behind. 

She is moving down to Provence tomorrow.

To be slightly more precise, her new home will be at only about a fifteen minute drive away from ours!

Now, I have spoken in the past about the aspect that having lasting friendships as an expat has been a challenge for me. I don't always gel well with my French counterparts and my fellow expatriates are often here for a few months and then gone for the rest of the year (which is doable but challenging). So, this arrival is something of a great gift, yes, full of the good stuff. 

But honestly, this is not about me in the least. That is just the candy corn on the cake.

I think that quite a few of you read Ellie's wonderful blog, Have Some Decorum and I smile to see some of your names in the comments section. For those of you who don't know who she is, well, I invite you to go and find out. As I have mentioned before, she is a fellow American, my age, beautiful beyond belief and happens to be in her fifth year of having ALS, although it doesn't define her - if anything, she is in the process of redefining - or trying to - this terrible disease. 

For at least a year now, Ellie has had it her head that she needs to move to Provence. Now, who doesn't want to live in Provence, you might ask but this was no simple proposal. Her French husbands work is based out of Paris (not exactly a shabby city in itself) and that is where her daughter goes to university. And yet she knew that for the best of her well-being that she had to live in the sun. 

Sun is something that we have here in Provence in spades and frankly often goes missing in Paree for five months out of the year. But the South of France also offers the possibility to change pace, to slow down, to connect with history and be surrounded by nature of the pinch me variety every single day. To have a view.

All of this was brewing in her mind far before I met Ellie in person. Those of you that have been reading here for a while know the tale: my wonderful friend, La Contessa, sent me the money (in cash!) so that I could take the train up just before Ellie's birthday. She later admitted that she was doing this as much as for my own good as Ellie's. Seriously, that woman is a living Fairy Godmother. Our meeting was...beyond wonderful. It was one of those moments that touched me deeply and shifted my perspective radically.

So when Ellie first announced her serious intentions to move down here, I was on it. We both spent hours, days, trolling through all of the internet ads we could find, looking for possibilities. And there were several. But one after one, they never panned out, for whatever reason. It was incredibly disheartening yet Ellie never gave up. She was determined. Slowly, she convinced her husband and daughter. And then, just then, the perfect house turned up. 

For me, the most amazing news is that it has an annex and so her caregivers are coming down with her. They are truly wonderful men who do so much and have so many talents. I admire them enormously. They will provide for a perfect transition and keep her "empire" expanding, right on schedule.

I wrote in an email the other day that Ellie will be the Queen of Provence in no time and I believe it. With her intelligence, vitality and verve - as well as her stellar taste in everything - who couldn't fall under her charm? Not to mention that the brocante dealers will need to be put on alert, as there is a new, ruthless buyer/seller in town. No details are left unturned by this phenomenal woman.

I feel really fortunate. But I also know deep in my heart that being here will help to only strengthen her truly indomitable spirit. I have wanted this so badly for her and now, it is happening.

If you are of the type to send out good thoughts or pray, would you join me in sending some to Ellie et al. so that the move goes swimmingly? I know it will but a little extra push would be lovely.

I can't wait to see what she will write on this new page in her life.

Brava, Ellie. Here is to moving forward. Don't worry about the freaky mushroom below, I have never seen one like it in Provence! Good times await, trust me. 

To read Ellie's blog, click here.

And if you are already fretting about Thanksgiving, then by all means save yourself some worries, click here.

What? Oh, you really want Halloween madness? All right, of course, I don't blame you. 

Happy Halloween and All Saint's Day...

With all of my very Best from Provence,

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Oh my, goodness

Can you take a compliment?

Do you brush it off with an old-fashioned "pshaw" or do you look the giver in the eye and take it in before replying, "Thank you"? 

Admittedly, I raise my hand - a bit sheepishly - for the first category although I have been trying to retrain myself for the past few years to be gracious enough to join the second instead.

Because such kindness means the world and is rarely given lightly - these invisible yet steel solid gifts.

Can you imagine then, my quandary to be inundated with many kind, thoughtful and heart-felt compliments all at once? I have never been on the receiving end of such an outpouring in my life. 

I didn't exactly know what to think or how to feel. Overwhelmed doesn't begin to express my inner state. Blown away? Yes. Overjoyed? That too. For a few days I had to retreat a bit into my shell to sort out my emotions in quiet. 

"Of course," some of you wrote in emails, "you deserve this!" and I would try not to furrow my brow and nibble the inner corners of my lips.

I was so moved while reading your comments on my previous post that I often spilled over into big sloppy tears and hiccup caught breathing. I am hopelessly sentimental and an over the moon romantic. You all know this by now and fed me the best bonbons for both of those senses. But I also know that you meant every word. Oh my goodness.

So I hope that you will forgive me if I haven't responded personally to each of you, as I like to do. I hope that I will eventually. But for now...slow down the pace, sip time...weren't we just talking about that? 

If I have learned anything in the past few days, it is that there are a lot of kindred spirits here and that makes me feel...delighted...but also hopeful and excited too. Trust me, if you have been something of an outsider all of your life (hello, fellow INFJ's), it is a realization that is nothing short of beautiful.

So please, please, accept my gratitude, as profoundly deep as the trees. 

You know, when I was acting, I wanted specifically to be a theatre actress, not to do film or television work, because I was fascinated by that ephemeral magical dust that floated back and forth between the audience and me during a performance. It was such a complicit exchange and based on a form of faith. Even while laughing, especially so. And I have missed that but realized earlier this morning with a ping that I have found another form of that with you, here. The distance may be wider but the proximity is somehow the same.

All of these thoughts were floating somewhere still out of reach while walking the dogs yesterday morning - actually they still are, who are we kidding, I am just tugging delicately at cobwebs here - but the light was just so with forms and details jumping out to grab my attention under the cover of the clouds. "Well, get back out there then," I thought, nodding inwardly and outwardly towards the collective you. I grabbed my camera, wrapped my scarf tighter around my throat then headed out the door to discover, capture and now, share. Just a little bit.

I have said it many times before already but thank you all for being here. I am looking forward to continuing down ces chemins sinueux, together.

To listen to:

PS. For those of you who were curious about the personality test that I mentioned, it is based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which you can read more about here and the actual test that I took can be found here. Happy trails...

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Fifth anniversary of Lost in Arles

Well, there will be no bells and whistles. No marching bands or giveaways. But I am quietly delighted to be celebrating the fifth anniversary of Lost in Arles, most certainly for one

We have been through a lot together, n'est-ce pas? And yet time has passed within the blink of an eye.

I have been mulling a post over in my head for the past two months now. Its working title has been "Go Big or Go Home?" and this seemed the right time, a good a day as any, to talk it out. 

Remi, my handsome, smart and funny companion, coaxed me into starting this blog. After a year full of confusion and heartbreak, it was a means to start building a pathway forward. "Be true to yourself," he would remind me, especially when readers other than my immediate friends and family started to appear, much to my complete surprise. "Don't try to please others." 

And so that is what I have tried to do - with the occasional wavering, it happens - in the over 600 posts so far. Slowly, you have arrived - one by one usually - and many of you have stayed. Some amazing bloggers were kind enough to talk about Lost in Arles very early on and that was an enormous help. Recently, I had a big influx of new readers, as two of my friends with very popular blogs were kind enough to mention me. Amazingly, it seems like I have lost most of them. Did that hurt? Kind of but it made me realize that just maybe this is a space that you need to randomly stumble upon and think, "What is this? I kind of like what she is doing...I just might belong here."

As a blogger, there is massive pressure to constantly expand your readership and your presence in social media. "Don't you want sponsors? Don't you want a book deal?" (Um...oui?) At some point in 2013, I could feel the wave of what I was making here rising, that a wave was coming. There were a few people that I have an enormous amount of respect for who gave me concrete advice about what to do next - change platforms, build in SEOs, create a selling space, consider the possibility of controlled advertising, launch and keep updated accounts on Facebook, Twitter and the was all right there and very clear cut.

Except that I couldn't do it.

I just didn't have it in me to do this blog in my own way plus all of that too and so the wave rolled back out. My friends who have very successful blogs - some of who have built them up in the same or even less time than I have been writing and photographing here - can. They work incredibly, incredibly hard every day of the week. We are talking definitely beyond the realms of a full-time job. I love them precisely because they are so motivated and ambitious but I am not. I wonder if those years of acting auditions just sucked the drive out of me. It's entirely possible.

But a slow pace can be a good thing too. I remember the exact day when I started to pick up my camera with an aim to do something beyond simply illustrating. Remi was in the midst of a long project of photographing the Romanesque churches of Provence, while using a complex technique that would at times require an hour to create each photo. How I would fidget and fuss amidst the pockets of too long until, out of nowhere, came the idea to start exploring on my own through the lens and not just with my always racing mind. And it became pretty clear to me immediately that what I was interested in most was to focus on the world of the little.

When we moved out of Arles over a year ago, Remi told me, "This will be great for your blog." And how wrong I thought he was, for months. I really floundered, stumbling without the constant energy and sparks of city life to inspire me. I didn't know what to say. Until finally, I gave up and let the little win. Because there is so much that is important within the minutiae of everyday.

 Sometimes, the answers really are right there in front of us. Recently, I took an online personality test. It seemed smartly done and I was curious. Little did I know how illuminating it would be (for many aspects of my life). It turns out that my personality is extremely rare, an INFJ, what this site calls "The Advocate." The traits assigned ring true - I have a high sense of idealism and a real need for integrity above all, qualities that I hope to use to help people that I care about. I need to have a purpose. 

And what I have been wondering is, "Do I?" Is this blog with its incessant repetitions and variations on a theme, enough? 

It took me a few weeks to find the answer, which is, "I think so...Maybe I am an Advocate for Beauty." And oh, how I really hope that doesn't sound as pretentious as I fear because guess what? You all are too. 

Of the nearly 3,000 of you that follow along here through various sources, there are about twenty, maybe thirty who leave comments on a regular basis (merci!) and yet I feel like I know all of you and are connected to you somehow. Does that sound crazy? But it is true. And I have even been lucky enough to have met some of you in person or shared walks through Arles together - which only confirmed that suspicion one hundred percent. 

Because we are of like minds and hearts. A little community but a really good one. 

And while our advocating may not be anywhere near as far-reaching as what former INFJ's such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Theresa brought to the world, a-hem, I still think that it is really needed in our demanding world. 

It isn't that I am determined to keep the blog from growing or that things will never change around here either but to answer my original question of "Go Big or Go Home?" Well, Lost in Arles may not be big, even after five years...but I certainly feel right at home.

Thank you, thank you for doing so much to make it so.

I am happy right where I am. I hope you are too.

With much Love and profound Gratitude from Provence,

Friday, October 16, 2015

The (not so) wild horses of the Camargue

It was one of those moments. Provence is still unveiling them, dropping them into my palm like stones in an ever-widening pond. Even after all these years...

Remi and I had already had a great afternoon in the Camargue, one where we were finally able to push past the tourist tainted scenery into something that made our hearts sing with excitement and feel as if we were both travelers again.

It was a day of business and pleasure with the former rounding out the last of the afternoon light. 

But it was not quite over, no, not yet for as we turned towards north towards Arles...

...we were dumbfounded to find a herd of the horses of the Camargue, the wild horses of the Camargue, gathered right by the side of the road. We pulled over and approached quietly, not wishing to disturb the sleep of those that leant towards each other, nostrils turned away from the saline sea winds.

They have been in the region for as long as man, possibly since the Paleolithic period. It is believed that they were cherished by the Romans and indeed Remi told me that Julius Caesar's cavalry was composed of not Italian but rather French (then German) riders. Why not think then that he was fond of this sturdy strong breed? It is known that later kings of France would forcibly take riders and these steeds and haul them into combat. The Brotherhood of the Gardians was formed over 500 years ago to end that practice and  yet the riders are still practicing their skills today as France's cowboys in herding the wild bulls that also roam this delta - half-sea, half-land.

But there were no sun-worn ranch-hands about, just these stately figures on an open plain. They let us observe them and most likely could sense our admiration; these creatures so ancient that they could nearly be ghosts from another time, were it not for their cut short snorts and rippled muscles moving under their white coats covering deep black skins. 

In the ten years that we have lived in Provence, we have never seen them at such a proximity. Eventually they turned tail and waded out into the marshes and left us grinning, gifted. Thank you la Provence, merci la Camargue, au revoir les chevaux...

Have a wonderful weekend everyone. I hope that you have a few fine surprises of the good kind and enjoy these days either turning towards fall or spring...

Monday, October 12, 2015

David Hockney at the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh Arles

Happiness is blinding.

And so I am afraid that I can't begin to give you anything resembling an unbiased review of David Hockney's newly opened exhibition "The Arrival of Spring" at the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh Arles as I was too busy smiling instead of analyzing. And I wasn't the only one.

Mr. Hockney is widely acknowledged as one of our most important and influential contemporary artists. While known primarily for his giving high brow credit to the burgeoning world of Pop Art in the 1960's, he has continuously pushed his visual boundaries and ours in the process, not unlike Vincent Van Gogh some seventy years before him. Both sensorially and semantically, the mesh of these two brilliant artists aesthetics is a perfect fit for the Fondation. Through the presentation of twelve inkjet reproductions of works created on his ipad, along with twenty-five more traditional charcoal drawings, we are drawn into Hockney's world (in this case the woodlands surrounding his native Yorkshire, a rich opposite to the white lights of his current home of Los Angeles) all while realizing that we have trodden these same paths before - in line and in bold non-imitative palette - under Vincent's tutelage.

But again, don't listen to me, I have already let you know that I loved what I saw, instead take a look at this description from the exhibition's introduction:

"Both the iPad and the charcoal series of drawings were produced outdoors in the East Yorkshire countryside, which the artist observed attentively as winter gave way to spring. Working with the touch-screen tablet, which Hockney uses as a digital sketchpad, allows the artist to explore a new visual language while at the same time affirming his love for colours, here taken to their most luminous heights: “I don’t know how I see colour, but I see it, and I like it. I suppose I exaggerate it a bit 1”. The charcoal drawings simultaneously invoke Hockney’s fascination for Chinese scrolls, which inspire in him the idea that black and white contain colours, as well as with the compositional changes in the Woldgate landscape over time – an exercise in patience to which he had to subscribe to in order to paint the same view on five different occasions."

I am afraid that my photos of what came out of that process won't begin to do them justice but it will give you an idea. Had I never really seen a Hockney in person before? That seems unlikely but in looking at these pieces, most certainly the ipad paintings, I fell into them with a click of "Oh, now I get it." And yet when Remi, my companion, came to join me later on, he was undecided as to the "why" of using an ipad, the validity of the search. I told him that it had been the subject of numerous discussions in the press when Mr. Hockney unveiled the first ipad pieces, which were done in 2009. At the time he responded about his use of the ipad, "Who wouldn't want one? Picasso or Van Gogh would have snapped one up." 

You see? There is Van Gogh again. And I can't help but think he must be right when imagining poor Vincent trudging out to the fields with his easel and array of brushes on his back that inspired the locals to call him "the porcupine." How much easier would it have been to simply carry an ipad and no paints at all?

Not to mention there is an immediacy to the works created that is really present in the final result, one that is quite in sync (sorry about that) with our current fast-forward times. One thing that I did notice however is that the technology that Mr. Hockney is using has improved since his first ipad work - the colors are so vibrant as not to be believed now, quite different from his initial pieces which, in their faded state, seemed like copies of an idea wishing to be realized. 

One of the aspects that charmed me most of this exhibition was seeing how the children there responded to the ipad pieces, which seemed almost purposefully hung low on the walls for their enjoyment. And they did, as I did, for in viewing Mr. Hockney's "The Arrival of Spring" I couldn't help but be carried away on a whistle of the enchanted hope that such a very fine season brings and the promise of a beautiful new.

"The Arrival of Spring" is not David Hockney's first collaboration in Arles.

In 1988, commissioned by La Fondation Vincent Van Gogh d’Arles, David Hockney created three portraits of chairs after one of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings – Van Gogh’s Chair (1888). 
“Because of the many viewpoint seen in these pictures, the eye is forced to move all the time. When the perspective moves through time, you begin to covert time into space. As you move, the shapes of the chairs change, and the straight lines of the floor also seem to move in different ways.”
- David Hockney (Hockney’s Pictures, 2004)

If you happen to be in Provence, please do stop by and see this wonderful exhibition.

David Hockney, "The Arrival of Spring"
Fondation Vincent Van Gogh Arles
35 ter rue de Docteur Fanton
13200 - Arles
Tel. (+33) 04 90 93 08 08

From October 11th 2015 to January 10th 2016
Open Tuesday through Sunday, 11am to 6pm
Admission is 9 Euros, 4 Euros for young people and students, free for children under 12

I will leave you with one of my favorite photos I have taken in a really long time. 
Thank you for being here,