Friday, April 29, 2011

Garden of the Dead

"A garden of the dead": This was the phrase my Paris guidebook used to describe Pere Lachaise - the largest and most famous cemetery in the world - located in the northeast corner of Paris. This is a fitting epithet, as I discovered today on my journey to paint this vast land of souls laid to rest.

Pere Lachaise is like a world unto itself - with it's winding tree-lined pathways through acres of tombs, monuments, and mausoleums. Inside the walls of this cemetery are buried the likes of Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Honore de Balzac, the famous lovers Peter Abelard and Heloise, Edith Piaf, and our very own Jim Morrison. A big thank you to Rachel M. for suggesting this spot.

This morning when I awoke, it was overcast and grey - so I killed time doing other tasks waiting for the weather to clear up so I could go paint at Pere Lachaise. Then it dawned on me - what better time to go hang out in a 200 year-old cemetery than under a dark, brooding sky. How morbidly Romantic.

Halfway through my little painting, an old French man with piercing blue eyes approached me and told me I was very "courageux" to be painting here. When I asked him why, he responded jovially in French "Aren't you afraid that a dead person will rise up out of one of those tombs?" We both laughed and I responded that I wasn't afraid.
But now that he mentioned it.......

I spent the remaining daylight hours in a cafe just outside the cemetery drinking one coffee after another, getting buzzed on the caffeine, writing, and drawing - waiting for the rush hour to end so that I didn't have to crowd onto the metro with a wet painting. That never ends well.

I was thankful to have yet another unique and authentic Paris experience.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Paris, France

Thursday, April 28, 2011

An Enchanted Forest and Farewell to a Friend

On the last day of Amy's visit here in Paris, we decided to take a train ride to the Forest of Fontainebleau. This dense and beautiful forest is one of France's national jewels, and has been a popular destination and muse for many artists throughout the centuries. Thank you Mark W. for reminding me about this place.

I scouted out the perfect place to paint while Amy went for a jog on the trails - she is an avid outdoors-woman. This was the perfect tranquil escape from the bustling metropolis of Paris.

I love how the light filters down through the trees and dances around on the underbrush. This painting is dedicated to you Dad - happy birthday! Sorry I can't be there to celebrate with you. You would love it in these woods - they smell fresh and amazing in the Springtime.

This forest was beloved by many important 19th century painters including Monet, Corot, and Millet, who affectionately called Fontainebleau their "outdoor studio". It gave me a deeper appreciation for the privilege to follow in their footsteps and paint here. (Monet below)

The Chateau of Fontainebleau is surrounded by the forest and was the 16th century summer home and hunting park of king Francois I, and eventually became Napoleon's primary residence in the 19th c.

It's so regal and immaculately manicured, complete with lakes and fountains and a moat surrounding the whole perimeter of the estate. Not bad for a summer cottage in the woods, right?

Amy and I returned to Paris to have our last dinner at Cafe de Flore, one of Hemingway's old haunts, and finished the night with some swanky cocktails and dessert at a chic place in Odeon. What an adventure it has been - many memories made. Thank you Amy - you made "the city of lights" even brighter.

Location:Fontainebleau, France

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Florence, Rome, and an Unforgettable Easter

Joyful Easter wishes and a belated Happy Passover to the ones I love across an ocean!
It was a very memorable Easter for Amy and I - as we spent the morning in Rome and caught our flight back to Paris in time to spend a few hours at the Louvre and attend evening Mass at Notre Dame - an Easter itinerary we never thought we'd see in our lives.

Florence was lovely - we only had one day there so we just did the highlights - the Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore

and the Medici Baptistry of San Giovanni, lingering on the Ponte Vecchio at sunset,

and going for a hike in the sprawling Boboli Gardens overlooking Florence in all its Renaissance majesty.

Next stop: Rome - a fascinating cocktail of ancient civilization and gritty modern urban sprawl. As a result of time constraints and Easter holiday revised hours, we didn't get to visit the Vatican. We only had time explore the Forum and ancient ruins and see the major sites and churches in the city, but we had a very full Roman experience.

This was my third time in Rome and as usual I tried to hunt down as many Caravaggio paintings in obscure churches as I could. This time I got to see one of my favorites that I hadn't yet encountered in person - the "Madonna di Loreto" or "Madonna of the Pilgrims". I love the earthy, un-stylized look of the kneeling peasants with their dirty feet and this humble Madonna.

Very powerful to be in Rome on Good Friday - as this was the site of the persecution, torment, and death of so many early Christian martyrs who shared in Christ's suffering in an excruciatingly real and literal way.

As a result of a horrendous travel mix-up that I won't go into here, we missed our scheduled Saturday - which we thought left at 6:45 PM but in fact left at 6:45 AM that morning. Without us. You all know that sinking feeling. We had to scramble to rebook our flight for Easter morning and to book a last-minute hotel room in Rome Saturday night. (a very costly mistake). All of Europe is traveling at Easter time - so it was nearly impossible to find a train, a plane, or a bus to get out of Rome. With the help of a new God-sent friend in Paris who helped us over the phone to find and book a flight, we were on our way home to Paris on Easter morning. When we arrived at the apartment, we changed into our Easter dresses - the ones we would have worn to church and Easter dinner with our families back home - and squeezed in a couple hours at the Louvre before trudging in heels over a mile of cobblestone streets to Notre Dame, where we packed in like sardines with a multitude of the faithful. It was awesome. A children's choir chanted psalms in Latin and we strained to understand as much as we could of the priest's French sermon; a message about the meaning of the Resurrection and the new possibilities it opens for humanity - for glorious life beyond life, and the particular desperation for this regenerative power in the often dark and uncertain crossroads of human history in which we live.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Venetian Masters and a Sinking City

Venice is like a city that I have always dreamed about but never knew actually existed. I was immediately struck by the quietness and solitude that emanated from this city, and quickly realized that it was due to the fact that busy 4-lane highways have been replaced by silent narrow canals.

The colors are gorgeous - warm and saturated. There is more beauty and less noise. In Venice, one listens with their eyes.

Venice carries the memory of a once flourishing Medieval Europe and a prosperous center of economic, architectural, and artistic innovation.
I once read an art historian describe the Venetian Renaissance painters as Alchemists who transform paint into flesh, velvet, silk, and taffeta. The sensual textures and colors in Venetian Painting are unmatched by any others in art history.

Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese are prime exemplars of this genius. the Academia, the "Scuola", and churches in Venice are filled with their immense luminous works. It was like a treasure hunt to find them all.

The Basilica San Marco with its shimmering Byzantine mosaic-covered interior was a highlight too.

Food in this city is delicious and affordable, which made me wonder if standard rent prices are too. I am seriously considering another temporary relocation here. Amy and I got lost a few times and made some fun friends during our stay. We were a bit sad to board the train to Florence this morning. Already dreaming of my next return to Venice.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Venice, Italy

Monday, April 18, 2011

Au Revoir Paris, Buon Giorno Italia!

My cloudy little goodbye painting for Paris:

Today, Amy and I depart for the Italian segment of our adventure. We are leaving Paris in a few hours to to fly to Venice - a first visit for both of us. After two nights in Venice, we take the train to Florence for a day and a night, and then finish out the trip with two days in Rome - Good Friday and Holy Saturday - and flying back to Paris in time for Easter. To say the least I feel blessed and humbled to be here at this time of the year, and at this season in my life. So much newness.

The last few days have been very full - full of unexpected new friends

and exploring the flavors of different neighborhoods in Paris (as well as the flavors of their cuisine). Last night's rabbit stew:

A friend gave me a mandatory assignment to read Earnest Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast" before I came to Paris - and I did to my delight. It is a memoir chronicling Hemingway's life in Paris as a young man and the impact it had on his senses and his flowering literary genius. He remarks, simply and truly, "There is never any end to Paris".

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Paris, France

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Dark Painting and a Bright Friend

This is the start of yesterday's painting. I will have to work from a photo, as I feared the skies would open up and pour on me at any minute. April in Paris is often overcast in the mornings.

When I woke up, Paris was like a sad song; wistful, foreboding, elegant.
The dark spires of Notre Dame against the brooding sky was a painting waiting to happen.

My friend Amy arrived today, bright-eyed as usual and full of energy after a long day of travel and airport shuffle. It was a joy to see her.

We wasted no time - covered a lot of touristy tracks for fun - I took her on a walking tour of the city and we had a very chic late dinner at Tokyo Eat, a hip meeting spot housed in the contemporary art exhibition space, the Palais de Tokyo.

We finished off the night with a walk to the glittering, illuminated Eiffel Tower, then wearily dragged ourselves home on the metro, exhausted from
a long day of exploring Paris on foot. The next phase of the adventure begins!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Evening Melancholy and the Company of Books

Today's painting: dusk from the heights of Montmartre.

At the end of a clear day, the sky fills with these subtle beautiful warm colors, but this sight is always a bit of a sad one for me, signifying the end of yet another day in Paris. The excitement of the day with all its museums, art, commotion, sights, sounds, and jam-packed schedule comes to a screeching halt. Shops close, people begin rushing through the streets with their groceries in tow, hurrying home to the people they love.

A word about living alone in Paris: it is incredible, but it is also hard. I have no actual friends in Paris yet, as most of the people I have met so far have been passing through, and most of my activities have been solitary (painting, museums, exploring, etc.). It is not advisable for a young woman to be wandering around alone at night, but thankfully the neighborhood in which I live is pretty safe and has lots of young people and students hanging out, smoking and debating in cafes until the wee hours.

I have a ritual now when I return home in the evenings: turn on some music to break the silence in my empty apartment, get started on a glass of red wine (I'm having fun trying different varieties) and start making dinner. I am in better shape than ever; I walk several miles every day in my jaunts around the city, and my apartment is on the 4th floor. And yes I take the stairs. Every time. There is an elevator and I am not afraid of elevators, but this one is an upright coffin. Seriously - would you step inside this thing and let the door close?

After my first week here, my body felt like a 90 year-old woman; sore and stiff and with bruised feet. Now I am fully adjusted to this acute active new lifestyle, and I am also starting to feel very at home now in my little apartment. My dear friend Amy arrives on Friday for a 2-week visit. So excited!
I made a thrilling discovery my first week here: the legendary bookstore "Shakespeare and Company" is literally 2 blocks from my apartment.

Steeped in history, this cluttered little treasure chest of antiquarian & contemporary books has been a meeting place for the likes of Earnest Hemingway and James Joyce. The Nazis closed it when they occupied Paris in 1941, and it reopened 10 years later in 1951, attracting scores of post-war Beat Generation poets. There is an incredible variety of books here - my heart is pounding just thinking about it.

I could spend days on end here, in fact I think I might. If you spent enough time browsing here, you could get the equivalent of a liberal arts college education. For the time being I have no phone service, Internet, or television here at my apartment - which is pretty isolating but it has forced me to reflect, read, write, and be quiet enough to confront myself in ways that I couldn't otherwise.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Paris, France