Monday, July 16, 2012

Ready, set, go!

Dah, dah, daaaah...ta-da! Our lustre or chandelier! Now, I'll leave it to you design folk to call this a reveal but those of you who have been reading for any length of time will know that this has been one long, long search. Ah me, the good things are worth waiting for aren't they. Because, truly the universe threw us a bone this time. One for me to think about when I claim with a blustery sigh that my luck is no more.

I found it on French ebay. All of the branches detach from the base and the patina is sublime. It is rusted and the wood is cracked, the real thing. We are guessing mid-1800s. Right away my alarm starting ringing so hard that I could barely sit still but I am no fool. I know that beauties like this don't go unperceived by the professionals. Except that for some reason, it did. It is one yard by one yard, absolutely giantly gorgeous and we got it for...90€. Yeah, you read that correctly, baby! Ding, ding, ding we have a winner!!

And it arrived like the elegant lady that she is, right on time before my Sister's arrival, just when I was hoping to spruce up les environs a little bit (although I know that Robin and I could have a great time in a tent in the wilderness, still, bah I can't help it). I then turned towards our pair of bridge chairs (from the 50s and 30s if you are looking left to right) and finally bought some wonderful cream fabric with a slight stretch in it from my wonderful seller at the market (more of her soon) for 10€. I do not have a hand for this type of thing but between tacks, sewing and even moving tape (!), they look a fine spot better than they did with the "temporary" getup that has been in place for a year!

So one plus two equals something much more pulled together on our non-existent budget. All that remained were a few more touches...

...gathering the most winsome lavender roses to make a girl sigh...

...stocking up on regional specialities until the refrigerator door would barely close...airing the vintage linen sheets...but most importantly...

...ramping up the welcoming committee!

As I have most likely made clear by now, a lovely time was had by all and I will be sharing more of our time together soon. Robin, come back soon! I love you, Sister! 

Thanks to all of you that were so appreciative of my last post about our shooting an ad for Apple in Botswana. For those of you that for some crazy reason were not glued to your computers this weekend, you can see it here. And yes, I will happily continue with our Past Adventures, including reposting the initial two for all of you wonderful new readers. 

Have a fantastic week everyone! 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Past Adventures: I dream of...elephants

©Remi Benali

It has been quite some time since I have contributed to this series, one that focuses on some of the previous adventures that my companion, Remi and I experienced during our whirlwind years of working as a team of travel writer and photographer for the French press. Today's post is not at all something that I had planned but was delightfully surprised by a fun cross in the wires of the internet. It is a long one, so feel free to settle in with your morning coffee or an evening glass of wine.

Jeanne, of the charming blog I Dream Of, recently made a post for her husband's birthday in which she included several photos of their travels together. I immediately had a hunch that I recognized the elephant in one of the photos. Our world is so overwhelmingly huge and yet there is that inevitable six degrees of separation, one that apparently applies to certain famous pachyderms as well! For Jeanne and her husband as well as Remi and I had the great fortune to experience the wonders of Abu Camp, a luxury tent resort in the Okavango Delta in Botswana and to meet the elephants that make this safari so exceptional. 

To read about Jeanne's experience on her honeymoon, please click over to her links about Cathy and the herd as well as an evocative description of Abu Camp. Both are beautifully written and the first even features one of Jeanne's watercolors (many of her fellow blog friends are looking forward to what direction she will take with her art, having recently had the courage to leave a lucrative position in the fashion industry).

Remi and I found our way to Abu Camp for a very different reason. When we received the call from TBWA in Los Angeles in 2004 about the possibility of shooting an ad for Apple and their software Final Cut Pro, it was beyond anything that we had ever hoped could happen. They had a very specific concept for the ad featuring a man sitting in a tent on the plains of Africa while editing a film on his laptop (inspired by a wildlife documentarian) with animals in the background during the "magic hour" of either sunrise or sunset.

Now, this idea posed a challenge for one main reason--the animals! Such wild animals will either flee or attack in such a situation so we needed to think outside the box. As I was working on the project as a producer, I first contacted the amazing Giraffe Manor outside of Nairobi, who kindly referred me to another possibility, one that suggested the tamed and trained elephants at Abu Camp. After hours upon hours of negotiating with the Botswana Film Commission, we received our shooting permit. Due to scheduling, we were able to rent out the camp in its entirety, along with the elephants as well as their capable handlers...but only for one weekend!

So, as thrilled as we were, the pressure was most certainly on. We arrived on Friday evening along with Bob, the model and Adam, the Artistic Director sent from TBWA's Johannesburg office (you can see the team above in the safari vehicle that is driven by Al, the camp's convivial owner). Immediately, we started to scout for a location--in advertising the client expects that their rough sketch for the ad be reproduced exactly as drawn--across the glorious terrain.

We only had four shooting sessions--yes, two sunrises and two sunsets. Our days were spent looking over the polaroids from the previous shoot and searching for other location possibilities. Alas, there was not a spare moment to partake in one of the elephant-back safaris for which the camp is so deservedly famous.

The shoots themselves were incredibly complicated, involving technical precision on Remi's part (can you believe that this was before he had changed to digital so he had to rely entirely on his gut to tell him whether he had the shot or not?). It took great courage on Bob's part to sit inside the tent with the elephants so close by as their handlers had to be out of the shot. At one point, the baby elephant (at a mere two tons) charged Remi, who held his ground, crisis was averted and he gained the respect of the handlers. 

©Remi Benali, please do not Pin, borrow or steal

And the result? We did it! On the very last shoot, it all came together. Talk about relief! Above is a small representation of the ad taken from Remi's website. Was it well received? The team at TBWA forwarded an email from Steve Jobs with his two word response: "Love it." 

As it would happen, our last day at Abu Camp also happened to be my 35th birthday. Along with finally getting to spend some quality time with Cathy, the matriarch of the herd (and the link with Jeanne), we were surprised with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot by the truly fantastic team at Abu (albeit also to celebrate the wrap of the shoot) and then we headed on a quick safari while en route to the tiny plane that would take us back to reality. I had just spied a momma lion and her cubs when the above photo was taken. It is my favorite photo of me ever, capturing a moment when I was filled with utter confidence and joy. 

What magic life can bring. Our time at Abu Camp was short but so incredible that with the distance of time, I have a hard time believing that it actually happened. But it did and I will always hold the memory of walking amidst the elephants on the finest birthday of my life (so far) very dear to my heart. I dream of them still.

Thank you for staying with me for this long post. Wishing you all a wonderful weekend and for those of you in France, an excellent Bastille Day!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mutiny on the bounty

Hello everyone! I would like to start off by thanking all of you for your kindness regarding my last post and also for those of you that were so supportive about yesterday's guest post at Tish Jett's amazing blog, A Femme d'un Certain Age. For those of you that missed it, you can see it here.

Now, most of you might know that I avoid covering our markets in Arles like the plague even if they are some of the very finest in Provence. It is just too cliché! And I do try from falling into those traps but just like the allure of lavender, there are elements that are too beautiful to be denied. So a little mutiny against my own overly controlling captain. This morning as I strolled with my Sister through the market, the light absolutely caressed the veggies, bounced off the freshly baked loaves of pain and lit up the honey like stained glass. 

Hoping that you all are enjoying the finest of your season, wherever you are...

Monday, July 9, 2012

Happy Days

Happy days. Slung down low on the sofa next to my Sister, slurping up truths with our morning coffee and digging for answers amidst the croissant crumbs. The solidity of a quiet agreement of things that go without saying because they have always done so. Remembering what once was and who we once were without being precious about it because a certain now is just too appealing. 

Happy Days. With a bit of puffed up pride introducing her to my world, this glowing Provence. Of sun tilted up, the castanets click of the cigales and the café chatter well into the night. Watching the ripple of discovery wash over her beautiful face or the pucker up tight from something different, like the tang from a fresh prune. I relax because she is relaxed and there is that electric wire of family between us.

Happy Days. Seeing her get to know my honey better and be wooed by my charmer of a pup. Of my getting to meet her wonderful companion and the joy I feel in seeing them together. Here. I am gathering up these memories to keep me warm in the winter of their absence, coming soon. But for now I will just be and enjoy.

So tell me, where did I take these photos? Any guesses? 

Wishing you all a wonderful week ahead.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Parfum d'Antan

Even after so many years of living in France, I can't help but be drawn to the parfum d'antan, that ephemeral feeling of the past, one often wafting around me like the scent trail left behind by a beautiful woman. My eye roves towards that sense of time worn, time known.

It is little wonder why I am so taken by such beauty. Only those that are born here seem to be oblivious to it. And yet I wonder if all of this past pulls me by the arms at times, holding me back. My Sister is visiting. One of the fascinating aspects of seeing family members after an absence is that the changes in them stand out as if drawn in bright colors. Robin has been working hard on herself and seems so less caught by the cobwebs of the past than before. She stands clear in the present with an open face towards the future.

So best then to appreciate the past with its style and substance without letting it take roots within. To linger in the parfum d'antan without getting caught under its spell...

Bon weekend!

PS. As I was about to hit publish, I had a lovely surprise from my friend Virginia in Melbourne. She is a talented and successful designer and yet shares her world generously in her incredible blog, Glamour Drops. Today's post involves me and our friendship. And while the French have taught me not to say thank you for a thank you, what she wrote is just too beautiful not to acknowledge. And it also is very similar in its way to what I have been pondering here. So far away and yet on the same wave-length. There is nothing old-fashioned about that. Friendship lives out of time, doesn't it?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Dog Days of Summer

In keeping with the theme of the happiness that our dogs bring us (or cats too!), I can't help but share a series of videos that I took the other day despite the fact that I had other posts prepared.

The other evening the light was lovely and I thought that it could be a good moment to try and capture a certain video that I had in mind for a while. Following the interest in My Dream Houses in Arles, I had decided to film some of my favorite haunts around town and started with the Cour de L'Archeveché where I go frequently to play with Ben.


Save that Mr. B obviously had another plan in mind and decided to become a dust-ball. Here is demonstrating his infamous "Digging to China" move, one that is put into motion only in moments of utter abandon.

And then, for only the second time in his life, he jumped into the fountain in the middle of the Place de la Republique, much to the delight of a large group of Japanese tourists who applauded and filmed the entire thing. Me? I was laughing too hard as you can hear! I especially love his stoic expression. Ah, to be a dog during the Dog Days of Summer!

Thank you all so much for your kind wishes about my Sister's visit. She has arrived safely and we are having a wonderful time! 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Dog Trots Globe

©Robert and Sheron Long

Look at that face! This is Chula, an eleven year-old Sheltie who will steal your heart and perhaps your baguette if you aren't careful! 

©Darius Detwiler

I was so delighted to come across the utterly adorable e-book "Dog Trots Globe" by Sheron Long, in which Chula shares her experience living in nearby St. Remy while exploring the heart of Provence--not to mention a glamorous trip to Paris. Now, I know that my fellow dog lovers (and even the one cat lover here--you know who you are!) will get such a kick out of this. Sheron comes from a long career in publishing, so be ready for a gorgeous interactive layout but also be prepared to be caught off guard with a fit of the giggles, as I was several times while reading it. 

©Robert and Sheron Long

And for those of you ready to turn up your nose (or your muzzle) at a story told from a dog's point of view, don't you dare! For the all of the facts are interesting ones,  details about life in France are spot on and wittily observed. Even my Ben could not have done a finer job.

©Darius Detwiler

I was equally charmed by the delightful photographs as I was by the adept illustrations by Darius Detwiler. This book would definitely make a lovely gift for your francophile friends this summer. I hope that you enjoy meeting Chula as much as I did--a rendezvous is in the works for her to romp with Ben in the Alpilles this be continued...

©Robert and Sheron Long

"Dog Trots Globe" can be found at:

OIC Books, the publisher's website--
By this link to the book on Amazon US

Have a great week everyone!