I promised Top Cat that I WOULD NOT DIGRESS while I take you to Monet’s famous garden in Giverny (Normandy, France).
I promise to Keep It Short since my previous reports (last week and the week before) on my recent visit to France have been rather wordy and some readers [Top Cat] say I make it toooooo looooong toooo reeeeeeed. So I’m cutting my three-day exploration of All Things Monet in Giverny down to this one post, probably. But pardon me while I set the scene:
For my first two nights I stayed at a marvelous B&B called Le Coin des Artists, which used to be a cafe/grocery in Monet’s day:
The Breakfast part of the B&B was quite wonderful (see: below… those are the same chairs that you’ll find in Monet’s dining room at Giverny and there was always Katie Melua on the CD player. I highly recommend starting your Giverny days hearing Katie Melua sing “Closest Thing to Crazy” and eavesdropping on the Belgian couple talking about the high price of French toll roads compared to the ones in Belgium but I’m not telling you that story because I Will Not Digress).
And ahhhhhh!! The Bed part of this B&B was heavenly! I really missed my Top Cat when I saw my room because nothing is more romantic than a fauteuil, n’est-ce pas?
Fauteuil only means “armchair” even tho it sounds kind of dirty.
The windows of my room looked out into the courtyard:
In the evening in this same courtyard the delightful hostess at Le Coin des Artistes, Madame Laurence Pain, serves chilled Loire Valley wine with the resident chow (see below: those orange protuberances at the end of the table are chow ears):
I could tell stories about the dogs of Giverny, who seem unable to contain their curiosity and excitement to be in the company of such world travelers as moi...
…or the cats of Giverny ,who don’t…
…except for this little girl (below) who must be part Siamese for all the talking she did here in Giverny’s “Medieval Quarter”, which consists of one rue…called Rue aux Juifs (Street of Jews) if you can believe it…
…but I will not digress!!! Neither can I tell you about the many stone walls I had to climb to snoop into courtyards that are hidden from the street, such as this one (below) where they hide Monet’s so-called “Blue House” where he used to grow his vegetables…
…but Non! Non! I will not digress! We are here today to visit the Monet’s garden at Giverny, so let’s get to it:
This is the map (above) at the entrance to the garden — they do not sell or give away maps of the garden when you pay your 9 euro ($12.50) to get into the garden, which I was telling the young Canadian couple on line with me, who were on the second day of their 6-week driving tour of France (so they took an iPad photo of this wall map to take with them) and then the guy, whose hobby is geology, wondered what kind of rocks this was in the wall because to a rock hound the world is one big rock puzzle, to whom I said well, if you like rocks and you have a car you should go see one of the Wonders of the World (rock-wise) at Mont St-Michel close by here in Normandy and they said “Mont What?” etc. but I Will Not Digress…
…although you see the guy with the dog (above) on the typically looooooong line to buy entrance tickets: Yeah, me too, I asked myself, “What kind of nincompoop brings a dog to Monet’s garden???” but I saw him later outside the garden sitting with the dog and I offered to watch the pup while he went inside but he said no thank you, it’s his wife who wanted to see the garden — they have been here before as they often sail their boat from England and moor it on the Seine in Vernon (closest town to Giverny on the Seine ) which goes to show you that people have the most surprising stories if you take the time to chat… but I Will Not Digress… Let’s get to the GARDEN!!!
This is what you see after you enter the garden through the gift shop and pass the lavatories:
Those are espalier’d apple trees IN BLOSSOM!!! and the sign that points to “House” is of course pointing to Monet’s famous pink house:
I timed my visit to the garden so that I’d get there at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and yes, it was still plenty crowded.
But I like crowds. In case you haven’t guessed, I like talking to people when I travel because, well, I’m a professional travel writer and in order to write about travel I need stories. What better way to get them than to get people to tell me theirs? Like this mother/daughter pair (below) I helped because they didn’t speak French and the ladies working in the gift shop are, excuse me for saying, kind of snotty, but I Will Not Digress:
And I LOVE Chinese tourists because they wear the best hats:
And for the most part, even tho it’s crowded, people are aware of other people trying to get a Monet Garden picture and do not walk right into your shot…
…but not always. And then, if you’re me, you hope that someone with an outrageously fab Monet-Garden-Visiting-Outfit steps into view…
How the gardeners work amidst such teeming humanity I don’t know…
…although I trailed two women gardeners who were pulling off the dead tulip heads with such a delicate manouvre that I was entranced by their gentle touch but I Will Not Digress…
But let us rejoice that some people, even in the madding crowd, are able find their private moments…
…which I, as your typical Nosey Parker…
…am only too happy to butt in on. But here’s my redeeming feature: I am the person who, when I see young couples taking “selflies” in places like Monet’s garden, I walk up and I ask “Would you like me to take your picture?” and then I art-direct them so that I get great shots of them in situ (I’m great at setting a scene and getting informative background) and I even tell them “Go on, kiss!” and they DO because I have that kind of trustful face and all.
Monet Garden at Giverny Travel Tip No. 1: If you hang around past 5 o’clock, all the day trippers leave and the place becomes very empty and even the guards are so happy that the day is almost over that they relax their eagle eyes and go MIA so there is no one to yell at you for taking pictures of the rooms…
…so you can stand in Monet’s bed chamber and snap away all you want (photos of furniture are forbidden!)…
…and there isn’t the usual looong line to get the permitted photo out of Monet’s window…
…so you can take in the view that Monet himself woke up to. I usually try to get people in my photos of landscape so you can gauge the scale so…Merci, straggler tourists who are in my picture of the overcast skies of Giverny at 5:30 May 10, 2013:
I want to live like Alice Monet and see a garden like this when I walk out of my kitchen.
This (below) is Monet’s other bedroom window seen from the ground (the house is very narrow) , part of a series of pictures that I took of all the edges all around his garden property because you never see that part of his garden but I Will Not Digress:
I like this picture because it catches the wind that blew in from the depths of Normandy all through Giverny, fluttering the tulips and the tourists:
So. Here I am, the next day, enjoying a lunch of hard boiled egg and baguette sandwich (which I made from breakfast items at the B&B) after trudging to the top of the hill that looms high above Giverny…
…when through the telephoto lens of my camera I peer unto the Jardin de Monet in the valley below…
…and I see that the D5 (a local highway that in this bend in the road is grandly called Chemin du Roy – King’s Way ) runs right past Monet’s garden. This road is built on the old railway line that bi-sects Monet’s property — his famous Water Garden is on the far side of the D5 there. And I think to myself This I gotta see but I have nine hours of DIGRESSION to achieve before I check out this Chemin du Roy from ground level:
It’s 8 o’clock in the evening and I am the only soul walking along this stretch of highway…
…where you can see the paradise that is Monet’s garden, big as you please! Without paying 9 euro!
The only barrier here is a spike fence and some scraggly shrubs:
All you have to do is walk up to the fence and stick your camera between the fence railings and you get the most beautiful scenes of an empty garden…
…and vistas that are just not available to you when you are actually IN the garden with the hoards of tourists :
I loved being here, in this silent and lonely twilight…
…taking photos of the landscape that really makes much more sense from this perspective:
These are the famous “paintbox” beds of flowers that oh! Made me tremble with pleasure seeing them like this (as compared to seeing them from inside):
You can not get a better shot of the alley than this, from outside the garden walls:
It helps that Normandy is so far north…
…that you still get the gentle evening twilight…
…that best illuminates the spritely colors of flowers…
…so much better than daytime sunlight:
Monet Garden at Giverny Travel Tip No. 2: Walk along the D5 after closing hours in Giverny and have this impossibly beautiful garden all to yourself. I did not see another soul the whole time I lurked here. This last picture, you can see, is blurry, which told me that I was losing the light…
…so I walked back into town, to Rue Claude Monet, the main drag of Giverny…
…and I wished I weren’t so far from home…
…and went to bed with sweet dreams of my Top Cat and the pictures I would paint of “my” Giverny.
The next day I paid my last visit to Monet’s garden. (I also moved to the town’s only hotel which I did not like so I Will Not Digress further.) It was sunny, which is not so great for photographing flowers so I will only show you this picture (below), which shows the hill on which I sat when I got my bird’s eye view of dear Giverny (that white boxy thing in the background is a pumping station that you will pass half-way on your climb to the top):
This is the last photo that I took of the garden…Farewell, Giverny:
I know that we did not get to the famous lily pond in Monet’s famous Water Garden in this post so I’ll have to show that to you next week…
when I’ll have a Giverny Triscuit for you, which I did not paint this week because I have been busy painting another wondrous garden, the one that I visited in April in New Orleans:
And I’ve been very busy making sure that the backyard cats aren’t dead :
That’s only Bibs, who looks dead but he’s just snoozing under Oscar’s watch.
And keeping an eye out so that the indoor cats don’t kill each other is a full time job:
That’s Cindy, glaring up at Taffy who is hogging her chair.
But we still have the Paris Triscuit to give away!
And the Triscuit goes to…Jen A.!!! Congratulations to a long time reader of this blog who recently sent me hummingbird feathers to add to my collection — you have never seen feathers soooooo small and so sparkly as hummingbird feathers but I Will Not Digress, no sir, not me. That’s for next week!
See you next time under the wisteria!
Paris is not Nashville.
In Nashville, when people see you point a camera in their direction they do this:
I miss you, Nashville!
In Paris, when they see you point a camera in their directon, they do this:
Yeah, that’s a hairy eyeball.
And at my house, when you point a camera in the backyard, you get this:
That’s Taffy, inspecting the airing-out of the patio chair cushions. Good job, Taffs.
Yes, we had a few days of sunshine here on the Isle of Long but have no fear! This is still the crappiest Spring ever — we’re getting the blow-back from Tropical Storm Andrea this weekend so yay! More rain! (Maybe that’s what’s keeping the cicadas at bay? So far, we haven’t heard a peep from the little monsters yet. So I say, Rain On!)
I hope you all had a peaceful and grateful D-Day yesterday. Top Cat and I raised a glass of French champagne in homage to our WWII heroes: We Will Never Forget.
Anyhoo. Back to the story of the day, which is how hard it is to take reference photos in Paris…it almost makes me want to turn into a pleine aire painter.
It’s not just Parisians’ stern sense of privacy in public places that makes photographing them so hard. It’s also their No-Se’em policy towards anybody who might look like a tourist (including middle aged ladies in tennis shoes holding a camera a/k/a moi). See here (below) how I almost had a great shot of a bunch of Parisian teens being all European (smoking and drinking coffee in a cafe), except for the un-seeing pedestrian who ruined it:
For those of you who can’t stand these loooong posts, skip to the end to find the Paris Triscuit!
Well, I REALLY wanted this picture so I gave it another try:
I hate to say that I took this shot two more times and never got what I wanted. Oh well, when you only have a split second to get the picture you gagne some and you rate some. (Both those words have grave accents on the end, which I can’t find on this keyboard, merde.)
On the street, some people just plain move in on your shot AND WILL NOT GO AWAY:
I almost got a picture of these ladies counting out change to pay the tab for their afternoon glass of wine. It could have been a cute shot.
Really? You didn’t see me standing here with a camera up to my face before you stepped in front of me you twit?
Often, people (even little old ladies using canes) are just too fast for me to catch:
Or they seem to be holding a pose for ever so long, only to stick up an elbow just when I click the shutter:
Taking photos from behind just isn’t my thing:
No, when Paris street fashion catches my eye I aim for full frontal. Last month it was c-o-l-d in Paris in May so women were wearing wonderful coats; it seemed that in Paris everyone has a coat that made a statement about style, wealth, taste, self-image, etc…not warmth. I loved this white coat that I saw getting up from the sidewalk at my daily cafe — white, with two big buttons on top and cut-away to show the outfit underneath with slash pockets and wide sleeves, but I couldn’t get her to show it off! I kept snapping away, but all I ever got was a profile:
Another day, another cafe and this coat had audacious ruffles at the collar and the hem but I couldn’t get to my camera fast enough and just as I clicked the shutter, she turned to leave the cafe.
I’m so glad that I got this beauty! Now, THIS is a fashion statement:
I followed this lovely businesswoman, who was walking her dog one morning, for 15 minutes all the way through the Place Dauphine and this is the best picture I got of her big wooly scarf and bright yellow jacket and gauzy skirt, but you can still se how well she is put together:
Nice red shoes:
This lady passed me on one side of the street and I noticed her intricately knotted scarf so I ran around and scurried up on the other side of the sidewalk to get ahead of her and try to catch her unawares but I think she saw me coming:
I took this picture through the window of a boulangerie, just trying to catch people in their normal bread-buying habitat:
I was just passing through the Canal St-Martin neighborhood when I saw this little duck, paddling all by herself in the wide water, and I wondered if she was lonely:
Then I noticed the girl in the raspberry-colored beret with the faintly Russian-looking overcoat, who was standing on the edge of the canal, staring at the lone duck just as I was:
Then the duck swam out of sight but she kept standing there, staring into the water and I wondered if she was depressed and thinking about doing an Anna Karenina so I followed her when she strolled up to the famous foot bridge over the canal and sat down with her feet dangling close to the cold water. I kept my eye on her for about ten minutes, ten long minutes (time drags when you’re on stake out) and then I decided that I wasn’t going to say anything to her (“Hello there, are you going to kill yourself? “) so I might as well mosey on.
I have a philosophy about depression. Depression is boring. People get depressed over the same predictable things, often for good reason. Happiness, however, is so unusual and so counter-intuitive that it is fascinating. So when I’m faced with a choice between the two, I go for happiness. So I went in search of funner stuff. Crossing off items on my looooong To Do list for Paris made me happy, so I went off to find the store in the 9th Arrondissement that is famous for its doll house furniture.
Along the way I came across this fetching coat in the 6th Arr. Shop windows!! So easy!!!
Can you believe that I found a Redingote for sale??
Also, I had never heard of a cache-coeur (hide-the-heart) so this piqued my interest. It’s a real thing. You can read about it here.
Yes, it’s easy to find great fashion in Paris…
…in all the chic neighborhoods…
…Rue de Rivoli, St-Germaine des Pres, Avenue Wagram…
…Monmartre. Yes, MONMARTRE! All these dresses are from my favorite fabric store, Reine — specifically, the remnants department!
Yes, all these fabulous frocks were made simply by draping fabric remnants (coupons in French). Wonderful texture juxtapositions, frolicsome pattern match-ups, surprising color combinations…I have so much to learn about style, and Paris has so much to teach me.
Which reminds me: I bought one book in Paris about that other thing I have so much to learn about:
It’s a vintage childrens’ bookcalled Studies of Drawing and Watercolor and I bought it because I also have a lot to learn about aquarelle, n’est-ce pas? This book is like a coloring book for watercolors — fun, eh?
And you know why this book is so perfect for me? Guess!
Right: it’s Triscuit sized!
So naturally I was inspired to do a special Paris Triscuit for my dear readers (see above). Yes, dear ones, you can win this original hand-painted Paris Triscuit:
All you have to do is leave a Comment to this post before next Wednesday (when the Comments section will close) and Top Cat will pick a number at random and I’ll announce the winner next week.
Oh, just one little thing. In order to be eligible for this original, hand-painted Paris Triscuit you must have left a Comment for me in this blog within the last four weeks (while I was traveling, when my true blue readers kept in touch!! Thank you!!! Comments are the only way I will ever ask you to pay for anything on this blog. Yay for me!).
And for those who are new to this blog: I still haven’t taken you (in this blog) to Monet’s garden at Giverny yet…
…soooooo you don’t know that there isn’t a Giverny Triscuit in the future, and you definitely want to throw in a Comment to get your eligibility for that. Right?
You never know what I’ll be painting next…
…so you don’t want to miss it!
I’m almost certain that most of you, dear readers, would hate to have me as a traveling companion.
I am not a “foodie” (a word I actually despise) so that means that if we were traveling together in Paris we would only drop into boulangeries for the moment or two in order to take reference photos of bread…
…so that if there is a Damn Paris Book in my future I’ll be able to paint a baguette…
…or a quiche or a Croque-Monsieur topped with a quail egg over easy…
…or some dessert mille feuilles. We would not be buying anything for taste tests, because I have no interest in this stuff — none of it actually appeals to me, except visually.
I have so little personal interest in food that I would often forget to eat during my long expeditions in Paris, unless I put it on my To Do list. That’s how I ended up at Chez Janou, near the Place des Vosges.
I found Chez Janou on French Yelp. It was rated the top restaurant in the 3rd arrondissement. For complicated reasons having to do with French holidays and unscheduled closings of the Carnavalet Museum, I needed something to do in the 3rd arrondissement for my 20-arrondissement Treasure Hunt of Paris (which was the theme for my visit) so I decided to get a traditional French lunch at Chez Janou.
I got there at the stroke of noon to have the place to myself for five minutes so I could take many reference photos of the famed decor. My cute waiter set the ardois (slate) on my table and oh! Lucky me! A homemade tomato-basil soup is the perfect starter on a cold and rainy day in Paris!
This is my cute waiter bringing me my veloute:
The white wine was from Bordeaux and chilled to Goldilocks standard (just right). The soup was filling but nothing I’m going to remember, not the way I remember a home made tomato soup that I had in Edinburgh in 2006. Now that was a great tomato soup.
I don’t eat meat (except for pate NOT FOIS GRAS when I’m in Paris) so neither the duck nor the salmon main course was tempting so I moved directly to dessert.
I expected more from the cake with the salty caramel sauce. It was just OK, sweet with a hint of salt, but mostly bland, with no heft of a real caramel sauce (heavy with butter, carmelized sugar). I have a rule that if the dessert isn’t fabulous I don’t need the calories, so I left half of it on the plate. I actually got bored with it half-way through so I put down my spoon and concentrated on eavesdropping on the Americans sitting next to me.
These Americans had their Rick Steves’ Guide to Paris on the table, which is how I guess they found Chez Janou because these two seemed pretty clueless (they couldn’t read the menu and then started discussing art: “Chagall has a lot of goats”…they were middle aged but not wearing wedding rings and their conversation seemed so painful, so groping for something to say, that I’m guessing they were still newly dating and this was their first big get-away together and boy, Paris was the wrong choice. I took notes. You can’t make up conversation like this. ). If we were traveling together, dear readers, I’m almost certain that my habit of eavesdropping and judging people would get pretty annoying, almost as annoying as me dragging you out of Chez Janou to go down the Rue des Tournelles just a bit…
…so I could stop in at the Union Nationale de L’Apiculture Francaise, the French National Honey Makers Union. I had read that the UNAF sells honey from its members, including the honey from hives at the Opera and the Grand Palais, and from hives from famous gardens like the Tuileries and the Luxembourg, and this I wanted to see. Well, it turns out that last year was such a bad year for honey that there was nothing to buy at the UNAF but I was referred to many orther shops that sell a wide variety of honey (see above, Famille Mary on the Rue Cler). Let me say, shopping for honey in Paris is a kick. I bought a jar of lemony honey from hives in Anjou (Loire Valley).
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the UNAF, and my talk with the young man there who told me all about honey making in France while I’m sure that you, dear reader, would have been bored out of your mind. After all, the Union Nationale de L’Apiculture Francaise is not listed in Rick Steves’ Guide to Paris.
But if you thought the Union Nationale de L’Apiculture Francaise was a hoot, then you will LOVE what I have in store for you next! We’re going to Montmartre! (18th arrondissement, for those keeping track.) We are going to the most famous fabric store in Paris!
That’s it, on the right, Reine, the Queen of fabric stores, at 5 Place Saint-Pierre (across the street from the second-most famous fabric store in Paris, Marche Saint-Pierre). And the reason this is a MUST on my To Do list is because…
…while the fabrics at Reine are wonderful…
…there is something else about Reine…
…that I HAD to see with my own eyes…
…and it’s those DOLLS:
These dolls are 30 inches tall and wear beautifully made clothes that show off the fabrics on sale.
I have read that some shoppers find these dolls creepy, but I just loved them. You have to see for yourself how beautifully made these doll clothes are, how the person who made them is as talented a couturier as YSL, to make fashion for 30-inch bodies. What do they do with the old dresses? Is there a museum or archive? Is it a full time job, designing and sewing these marvels? I am intrigued by everything about Reine.
But here’s the thing about Reine: while it’s OK to take your dog shopping with you at the most famous fabric store in Paris…
…it is NOT OK to take photos in the store. I was told to put away my camera after I’d been snapping for fifteen minutes so I can’t complain.
So let’s go some place where photography is encouraged. Let’s head to the 10th arrondissement, to the Boulevard de Strasbourg, near the Porte Saint-Denis:
To the unmarked blue door…
…and up the dark stairs in a residential building…
…to the third floor (fourth floor, for those counting American style)…
…to arrive at the Musee de Eventail. What is an evantail?, you ask, and why does it have its own museum?
Eventail is French for fan:
The Museum of the Fan is all about the history and the making of fans and was high, high on my To Do list.
The gracious Mme. Anne Hoguet owns and runs this private museum, and you can read more about her (in French) here.
You don’t have to be interested in fans to love the looks of this museum, housed in a very old Paris apartment.
Fans from all over the world, from pre-history to the 21st century, are on exhibit. But really, it’s the rooms that thrilled me. It is like visiting a character out of Proust, or maybe Dickens, to wander around the richly paneled rooms with the fabric-lined walls and ornate ceilings.
So this is what is must have been like to be haute bourgeoisie in 19th century Paris.
Every detail of this place represents the fan-obsession of Mme. Hoguet.
And you can even help yourself to the atelier, the workroom where Mme. Hoguet and her assistant still make fans by hand, mostly for French couture houses.
Wouldn’t you know it, the assistant was called away just as I wanted to get her photo, but she left her work in progress…
…so while she sorted out things with her checking account, I was free to snoop into the innards of a fan-making studio.
Both Mme. Hoguet and her assistant are pleased to have visitors who show an interest in their life work, so you will find yourself very welcomed here at the Musee de Eventail, 2 Boulevard de Strasbourg, Mon-Tues-Wed 2 – 6pm, 6 euro entrance fee. And there’s a gift shop.
And this is only the 3rd, 18th, and 10th arrondissements! I have not yet dragged you to the 6th:
(Square Gabriel Pierne, to see those park benches shaped like books!), or the 20th:
(“Tree House” on Place Martin Nadaud, above), or the super-elegant 17th:
(to walk in the heavenly perfume of the gardens along the Boulevard Pereire, which turns into a flea market on Saturday on its eastern end), or the delightful 13th:
(one of many charming hidden back streets in the Butte aux Cailles), or the all-important 14th…
(to see the last pissoir in Paris…
…by the walls of the Sante prison on Boulevard Arago). Yes, stick with me and I’ll cart you off to the 7th:
To see the amazing vertical garden at the brand new Musee des Arts Premiers on the Quai Branley:
Which I thought was going to be another architectural stunt, like the Pompidou Center, but is in fact a marvelously fun idea!
Truly in keeping with the spirit of Paris!
You can even get a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower!
But, since we started with food let’s end with food:
In Paris you can buy cat food in your local grocery just the same as you’d find in Home Town USA, some chicken and fish stew, some salmon dinner, some rabbit meatloaf.
Well, to be fair, you can also buy terrine au rabbit for yourself:
As well as every kind of cassoulet possible:
Next week I’ll have one last, long look at Paris before I get back to bidniss, which is boring you with work-in-progress on the Damn Garden Book. I want to report to you from the Streets of Paris:
Which includes Fabulous Street Fashion and Other Fabulous Stuff I Caught on the Boulevards and Rues of Paris:
See you next Friday!
This is how I started almost every day that I was in Paris these past two weeks:
I would go to my local cafe and have a nice little pot of tea with tartine (buttered baguette with jam) and plan my day’s outings with the aid of my outstanding booklet of detailed maps of Paris’ 20 arrondissements, while trying my best to eavesdrop on the colorful regulars. On only my third morning here…
…at Le Nesle brasserie on the tiny dead-end Rue de Nesle in the 6th arrondissement…
…(I never had an evening snack here, only breakfast) the sweet bartender knew that I liked my tea sweet and he automatically put six extra sugar cubes on my saucer. I really enjoyed the crowd at the Nesle (pronounced “Nell” when you’re talking to French people, but pronounced “Nestle” when you’re talking to yourself).
One day the boys were trying to remember the name of the actor who played Columbo on TV. Another day they were talking about how few French people went to the Champs Elysees to watch the President lay a wreath under the Arc de Triomph in honor of VE Day this year:
I like it that street cleaners pop in at Le Nesle for a cup of espresso between rues:
And I really like it when Bobo shows up:
Bobo runs into Le Nesle as if the Le Nesle is THE BEST PLACE EVER FOR A DOG TO BE!!!!!!!! and he sniffs everyone at the bar, accepting Good Morning pats from his fans, and then he follows his owner outside to a table on the sidewalk:
That’s a good place to say Bonjour to friends and neighbors passing by:
It is against the law to smoke inside a cafe in Paris, so smokers have to sit out on the sidewalk…
…which is why I did not sit outside, ever, at any cafe in Paris even thought that meant I missed sitting with Bobo and his human. Also, it was mostly cold and drizzly while I was in Paris and I like to be warm and dry.
Away from Le Nesle, my very top highest Tea Priority was to make a visit to Mariage Freres, the Brothers Mariage, known as the Princes of French Tea, in the 4th arrondissement:
The fragrance of adventure and poetry endlessly pervade each cup of tea, worte Henri Mariage, one of the brothers who founded Marriage Freres in 1854.
This shop, at 30-32 Rue de Bourg-Tibourg, is deliberately old-fashioned in its operations as both a tea retailer and as a Salon de The.
The staff, which is young, male, and dressed in white linen suits, gives you a tea-buying experience straight out of the 19th century.
Upstairs, there’s even a little Tea Museum.
The decor of the Marriage Salon de The is totally J. Peterman Colonial…
…with lots of wicker and rattan and palms…
…with the Art Deco clock that says it’s always Tea Time:
The tea menu is eight pages long…
…but I already knew what I wanted:
My pot of Vanille des Isles came with a book about L’Art Francois du The in case I wanted to cram on The French Art of Tea while my Vanilla of the Islands steeped. I got a kick out of the little shovel in the sugar bowl, and the sugar that looked like teeny bits of rock candy. What can I say? I was born in Montana, so some part of me will always be a hick.
The service was very professional, not warm but not condescending either, and nobody reprimanded me with their typically French horror of being photographed in a public place until after I’d already got all the photos I wanted anyway. There are actual laws in France forbidding people to take photos of people in public places without their permission, and I hardly ever ask permission — especially if I think they will say Non. This attitude of mine irritates some French people’s last nerve, which I soothe by apologizing in fluent French while giving them a big dumb American smile. Now, you might be surprised to learn this, but there are some French people who do not give photo-happy American tourists a break because they are just out-and-out snots and I know this for a fact because I had to travel all the way out to the “seedy” 19th arrondissement to bring you this tea story:
This is the boulangerie at 83 Rue de Crimee of award-winning female baker Veronique Mauclerc:
From a review in Elle magazine: This neighborhood boulangerie is killer [awesome]! In particular, their caramel pastry is worth the trek [to the "seedy 19th arrondissement]. It’s my Proustian experience. I’d go back on a scooter just for those caramels. Or something close to that.
In her so-called Salon de The, Veronique Mauclerc offers a degustation (tasting menu) of her breads (it’s spelled out right there, on her ardois/blackboard) for about $15:
When I arrived at 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, there wasn’t a single customer in the shop but the middle-aged sales person, standing with her hands clasped behind her back, still seemed overworked as she wearily answered my inquiry as to the possibility of partaking of a degustation. After some pointed questioning on my part I got her to admit that yes, they do serve tea and bread in the salon, which she indicated by a flip of her shoulder was in the back of the shop.
The Salon de The is a single wooden table in a hallway between the shop and the oven — one of only four remaining traditional wood-burning bread-baking ovens left in Paris. The couple shown here were just finishing their coffee and rolls and were very gracious about making room for me while they gathered their things to leave. The place was now empty except for me, the customer, and the passive-agressive shop assistant.
It was while I was photographing this famous wood-burning bread-baking oven that I heard the shop assistant mumble something about “photographie”. That’s right: she literally said it behind my back. So I put the camera away and settled into a chair, awaiting my own Proustain experience with France’s most famous female bread maker. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And it dawns on me that I’m being iced. I have transgressed the unwritten law of Paris snots, Thou Shalt Not Be American, and I’m never getting service, no matter how long I wait, or if I do I can’t be sure there won’t be spit in my tea.
So I gather my things and walk to the front of the shop and I say to the shop lady, in English “I guess it’s too inconvenient for you to do your job, bitch,” and I leave. I head to the metro station and as I turn the corner I see this:
It’s busy and noisy and fast-paced…
…the shop assistants are very helpful in answering customer questions about the types of bread they make on the premises and as I wait to pay for my pain chocolate I see that the ovens are behind the glass wall and they are just about to roll in a tray of baguettes. I say OH! Les baguettes! And I raise my camera…
…and the shop assistant yells to the baker: “Yannick! the lady wants to take your picture!” And Yannick goes:
I take the photo and I holler to Yannick, in English, “Thank you!” And Yannick waves back and calls out: “Sank you!”
Artisan Boulanger Bio, 62 Rue d’Hautpoul. Yo, Veronique Maclerc: This is how you run a bakery, bitch.
When I went for tea at the famous Cafe Le Select on the Boulevard Montparnasse that forms the border between the 6th and the 14th arrondissements…
…the head waiter showed me where I could find Rick, the American artist who sketches in the cafe every day…
…and the banquette where I can find Mickey, the 20-year old house cat who rules the roost at Cafe Le Select:
The tea is always good in Paris cafes because they have machines that get the water really hot hot hot. I like that.
I can not look at the crowd at Cafe Le Select…
…without thinking of the wonderful book that Rick Tulka drew about Cafe Le Select…
…called Paris Cafe: The Select Crowd:
You can read about Rick and see his art by clicking on this link…
…or you can meet him at Cafe Le Select (with fellow blogger and Friend of Rick, Carol Gillott of Paris Breakfasts:
Meanwhile, back in the corner banquette, look who else has also showed up for work — ordered his coffee, opened his lap top, spread a towel next to him so that Mickey will sit within purring distance…
(He was French and not a big talker or else I’d have more info to give you about this Monsieur, but he’s clearly One Of Us, seeing as how he brings a towel and all.)
And then it was off to Giverny…
…where my sweet room at the B&B (Coin des Artists, which used to be the village grocery store in Monet’s day ) came with a tea service at my disposal…
…but I didn’t make tea in my room, preferring the great stuff that came with breakfast…
…(note that those chairs are copies of the chairs in Monet’s diningroom) and the Happy Hour that came with a happy friend named Toddy…
…whose ears you see in the center of this photo of my other favorite beverage:
On one of the three days that I spent in Giverny I walked 4 kilometers to the neighboring town of Vernon…
…to research Monet’s life in Normandy, and to reward myself with afternoon tea at Cafe Globe:
Cafe Globe was filled with lots of local French people such as these two gentlemen:
Even though the couple sitting next to me were Americans with their Rick Steves’ Guide to France I really enjoyed my tea time at the Globe and here’s why: When the old guy in the background of the preceding photo shuffled up to the bar to pay for his lunch I asked him if it would bother him if I took a photo of his jacket:
Mais non, he said: I wear this because les Americans were the heros of my childhood. Then, because he was so proud of his system for the portage of cash, he made a lengthy exhibition to the barman about how he keeps his money in his hat, which looks as if it’s from The French Foreign Legion, and I didn’t get to ask him for more info about how he got his jacket because I was laughing too hard about his hat.
Normans. They are a separate breed of French. I was reminded of this on my last day in Giverny, when I stopped in at the famous Hotel Baudy, the old hangout when Monet was still alive and this village was crawling with young artists who wanted to be Impressionists when they grew up:
This is a very lively place with a huge lunch crowd and an enormous dinner crowd made up of the tourists who day trip to Monet’s garden. I had my 2:30 tea in the front room, where the bar is, which is in effect a front row seat to the three ring circus that is Hotel Baudy…
…where I could keep my eye on everyone who came for lunch…
…or came in for a quick cup of coffee, like these honeymooners from Spain:
This American lady took their place and I watched as she sounded out the menu, and then adjusted her scarf so the Hermes logo was visible:
I didn’t like her at all. Then a village regular came in for his kind of amber-colored eau de vie, which was served in a wine glass:
He had ripped trousers, scuffed shoes, and was in need of a haircut — he looked just like Monet before the world fell in love with his haystacks (when he was poor and undiscovered)!!!!
And here is where I bagged that rarest of photographic feats when stalking the Frenchman on his native turf:
I caught him doing the Gallic Shrug!!
And now, in order to keep up with this thrilling saga one tea cup at a time, we much whisk ourselves to Marrakech.
Specifically, to the Casbah :
On a rue called Tadla (which looks exactly like all the other rues in the casbah which is why I always got lost whenever I went out and could only found my way back by accident and slow process of trial and error):
The Riad (Morrocan home with interior courtyard garden) Orangers d’Alilia was my home base in Marrakech — that’s the French woman, Madame Joelle, who runs it, dressed in white:
It was under the orange trees in the small inner courtyard….
…where Fatima welcomed me to Morocco with a much-needed cup of tea. I’d had a busy morning in Paris, then schlepped to the airport and been stuffed on a full plane (Easy Jet) that was the most claustrophobic experience I’d ever had, and now it was almost seven o’clock at night and I was nervous about traveling in Marrakech on my own. It was good to calm my nerves with a cup of mint tea.
There were little russet-colored birdies who flew into the riad to sit in the orange trees and sing. I gave crumbs of my biscotti to them. Now I know why old ladies feed the birds. It’s because they are lonely.
I would highly recommend this riad to any traveler.
I did not expect such understated luxury in Marrakech, or rose petals on the bed…
Mint tea is OK for certain social situations any time after high noon or for calming nerves in the early evening , but I need a real tea when it really counts — at breakfast. For those times, Carol Gillot had given me a stash of India tea lightly flavored with vanilla which I brewed in a little silver pot of just-boiled water:
To make the most of my 48 hours in Morocco I had arranged on Day One to spend the morning at the Majorelle Garden and then travel 20 kilometers to the west of Marrakech to meet a Peace Corps volunteer in a village called Tameslouht:
When I got off the bus I realized that we had not arranged any specific meeting point in Tameslouht, but it was very easy to locate Sara by asking around the village for “The American”. A young womb working at the new community center knew exactly who “The American” was and she graciously made a telephone call to Sara, and while I waited for her I was given a tour of the center’s facilities, which included classrooms for adult education in literacy, sewing, and weaving — as well as two rooms of little kids in day care:
They were told to Say Bonjour to the lady — which they did, in unison, while staring at me like I was a unicorn. CUUUUUUUUTE. Then I singed their VIP Visitor’s Book and Sara came to collect me.
Sara Quinn has a blog about her Peace Corps experience — you can read it by clicking here — and she took me to the home of the President of the Women’s Craft Association of Tameslouht to inspect the many things they create (subject of a future post). German travelers Wilhelm and Ursula were also checking out the array of clothing and accessories and we all drank tea with Sara and Zenib and Sara’s darling Moroccan fiance, Mustafa:
Then Sara took us on a tour of her town.
The next day, Sara traveled to meet me in Marrakech to guide me around the souk (market) and the Djemma El Fna (main square, where the snake charmers and the storytellers convene) and other insider points of interest but we did not have tea so those stories don’t belong here, except for the part where I tell you that Sara is the cutest damn Peace Corps Volunteer ever:
I flew out of Marrakech that evening, arriving in Paris IN A REALLY BAD MOOD at midnight. I was so pissed off that I didn’t even photograph the “tea” that was served at breakfast at the hotel I stayed at in Orly Airport.
The next decent cup of tea I had was back at Carol Gillott’s apartment in the 15th arrondissement — I had searched high and low all over Paris for my favorite patisserie — Pithivier! — and found it right across the street . I’d caught Carol in the act of painting a chocolate Religieuse there, in the background, so this is a tea cup still life that I call One Paints and The Other Doesn’t:
I’d got an email from a dear blog reader, Laura, about the cafe in the 6th arrondissement that I’d photographed for you two weeks ago — Le Conti. Laura had always thought this cafe was a figment of the imagination but non, it’s real — so for her I made this one of my last cups of tea:
I was instructed, by Laura, to ask about a resident terrier named Orson. Ah, Orson!, the handsome young barman said, “Orson n’est plus d’ici — his owner took him to live on his parents’ farm. Hmmmmm….
I wonder if “sent to live on a farm” means in France what it means in America?
My time in Paris was coming to an end now, and to understand this next cup of tea you must know that my days in Paris had a purpose that I have not discussed with you, dear readers. I had set myself the task of visiting every arrondissement — 20 in all — to fulfill a Wish List (of unusual sights, experiences, personalities) that has taken me five years to put together. It was much, much more physically challenging and mentally exhausting than I’d anticipated. But I’d always planned to end the quest with a big splurge cup of tea in the ultra ritzy 8th arrondissement, as a reward for accomplishing a difficult task.
It was a cold, rainy day and I didn’t bother to wear the dress shoes that I’d packed or this occasion and I don’t have to tell you that after two weeks on the road my hair was a fright — I was a total mess. Still, when I went to both Le Bristol hotel (room rates start at $800 at night) and the Georges V (as I walked in Robin Thicke was strutting out) I was met with extraordinary courtesy. I inspected their tea rooms and menus (both charge 48 euro for Afternoon Tea — that’s about $60) and found them both lacking: the teas at Le Bristol were all very perfumy and came with a rack of pastries that I didn’t have any interest in; the teas at the Georges V were better and the pastries were not as froofy, but there was a piano player banging away in the salon which I found extremely annoying.
I was feeling depressed. Did I mention the cold, and the rain? And that I was fatigued with travel, Paris, myself, and my loneliness? I had wanted this quest to end with a nice big India tea bang and it wasn’t happening.
Then I noticed that right next door to the Georges V was the Prince of Wales hotel. Just as luxe, only open for five days after a two-year long renovation. The hospitality was exquisitely warm and professional, and the tea menu was outstanding. I sank into a leather sofa and ordered Tuareg Tea.
Well, I did ask beforehand if Tuareg Tea was the same kind of tea that I remembered drinking with Tuaregs when I was in the Peace Corps in Niger. Yes, I was told — it’s a black tea served tres sucre (very sugary). It wasn’t. It was a hay-tasting mild tea (did I mention that they’d only been opened for five days? Still working out the bugs)…but I was so grateful for the comfort and quality of the service, and so happy that I wasn’t forced to buy pastries I wouldn’t eat, that I did not go into my usual high dudgeon. I sat contentedly and sang to myself along with the soothing background music, Frank and Nancy Sinatra (Something Stupid) and Dusty Springfield (The Look of Love)…
…and watched people drink champagne cocktails…
…and chatted with the young hostess (that’s her, in the while collar and cuffs) about her childhood in Senegal…
…and wished I had those lighting fixtures in the form of the three feathers of the Prince of Wales….
They would totally work in my dining room.
No, it’s not over yet. There’s one more cup of tea, the one I had after a lunch of pate and baguette and classic onion soup on my last day in Paris, in a hot trendy bistro in the Marais called Les Philosophes.
They had the grace to serve Mariage Freres tea, a perfect way to redeem a trip that was feeling, at this point, like it was two or three days too long. It was still raining and cold and I was tired of Paris but I was GOING HOME!
As I type this, I’ve been home for about 46 hours. I have bought new curtains for the dining room and went on a shopping quest to re-accessorize the kitchen in shades of lime and apple green with a few gun metal and bamboo accents. I’ve ordered French cafe curtains from Williams Sonoma. I’ve been busy. Jet lag gives me a lot of nervous energy but also, I’ve become used to a frantic pace of life (that 20 Arrondissement TO DO List was a massive project that required ten hour days of TO DO-ing) . That’s my excuse for the length of this post — hope you enjoyed your trip in my Tea World!
There are two ways to see Monet’s garden at Giverny. You can see it from ground level…
..or you can climb a hill and see it from above. Either way…
…it’s quite a sight.
It’s been chilly here in Normandy, that is when the sun isn’t shining and warming you to your tootsies — those clouds can turn a refreshing Spring breeze into a frigid bone-chilling gust. Some people are even wearing Winter coats but I get by very well with my Seattle fleece jacket. Yes, Giverny is a tourist trap, but not a TOTAL tourist trap. I stayed for my first two nights at a delightful B&B but had to move to the town’s only hotel (a large group of Russians were booked for arrival at the B&B) and while I had the company of a chow named Toddy at the B&B when I took my well deserved Friday evening aperitif…
…there are no such furry ears at the hotel.
You know I will tell you in full all about Giverny when I get back to my desk on Long Island and off this f*#€€**! iPad, but you already know that while my body might be in France (actually, it’s in Marrakech at this point) my heart is still in my little workroom back home.
This is my butcher-block desk (it’s really only an old kitchen table my sister gave me 20 years ago) which is situated in front of two south-facing windows. The most important feature of this set up is the chair: I sit in a child’s chair, the seat of which is only 13 inches above the floor. This puts me at just above eye-level with the top of my desk, which is very important for the close-up, miniature-sized painting I do.
Before I started to illustrate my books, this set up was very familiar to me from my years as the watch and clock expert at Christie’s auction house (my job before I got promoted to Faberge). Horologists also work on itty bitty bits (watch parts are veeeeeeeerrrrrryyyyy small) :
So watchmakers sit at specially-made furniture that has a desk top that is about a foot higher than a normal table:
But since I don’t have a watchmaker’s desk — I just have an old kitchen table — I have lowered my seat to make like an horologist when I paint.
That photograph of my desk shows me working on a garden illustration from my Key West photo album, which I will show you at the end of this post.Before I go further, I must tell you that while I was photographing the 4 corners of my workroom I was moving Coco, in her cat bed on her chair in the middle of the room, to keep her out of camera range…and she was so much a part of this post that I totally forgot to take a photo of HER and now I’m in France and can’t do nothin about it.
I keep my photo albums and diaries and notebooks filed away in my closet:
I started a special Garden Book book shelf in there for handy reference. I also have loads of loose photos, filed in shoeboxes in a special blue bookcase:
Those binders that you see on top of my photo/shoe boxes are the various Books-in-Progress of original art work that (so far) doen’t have a home in a published book. Those binders are too tall to fit in any regular bookcase, so I found a darling little bedside bookcase that I turned on its side and stacked on top of my sweet little blue bookcase. I have a large bulletin board on the left. Joan Rivers has very good advice about growing old: Never keep photos of your younger self on display around the house…but I have two 8″ x 10″ black and white photos of me on my wall, from my Peace Corps days, because in my mind I’m still 26. I have two more bookcases stacked up to the right, where I keep tea cups and birds’ nests … on the wall in the background there is a map of a road trip through New England that I painted many moons ago. I will have more to say about my love of making hand-made maps in a bit.
But this is my favorite wall, the Wall of Feathers:
Most of these feathers are treasures that I have found over the years, some of them are gifts from my Dear Readers, all of them represent to me my idea of wealth…
…the same way that Top Cat’s idea of rich is this:
This is firewood that Top Cat chopped himself, and why he has a soft spot for Hurricane Sandy as an outstanding delivery mechanism for excellent quality raw material for his wood chopping hobby. Top Cat loves to chop wood.
It was while I was snapping photos of my workroom for this tour that I came upon some old art projects that I haven’t looked at in years:
I have a box full of old embroidery projects — before I ever painted a garden, I used to sew them all the time. I put a few of my embroidered gardens in my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam:
If you’ll notice, each of those gardens has a black and white tuxedo cat in them; that’s because for many years I put my sweet cat Woody Robinson in every garden I sewed. He was even in this one (on the right):
Only, in order to see him you have to see the entire garden:
I ripped out all the stitches in that gate that appears at the bottom of this piece because it is not the real gate to this garden and after I’d sewn it I felt dishonest for putting in an imaginary structure. This is actually the walled herb garden of the Geffrye Museum in London and you gain access to it through the door that I painted on page 78 (of Wanderers, if you’re reading along, above).
But there’s plenty more embroidered gardens where those came from:
And then there is this:
That’s a tea bag over by Florida’s Fountain of Youth, for scale. This is the one and only “quilt” I ever made, for a quilting contest in 1992. The theme was America, if I remember correctly, and I love to make maps so this was right up my alley. It was a national competition and I won a third place in Mixed Media and this “quilt” was published in a national magazine. Country Home, I believe.
In this map “quilt” of America I put ll the various historical / ethnic references that I though were indicative of the various regions. In Middle America I put a baseball diamond, to represent The Field of Dreams in the approx. area of Iowa. For Texas and the Southwest I did Mexican-style reverse appliqué and I embroidered Central American creatures and then I did some Navajo spirits and a Plains Indian head dress. For the West Coast I put a Japanese bridge with cherry blossom plus a nifty Chinese dragon…
…which I have to say is the best thing I ever embroidered. In the Ohio Valley / Pennsylvania / Original 13 Colonies area I put an early American sampler-style thing:
Yes, that’s a shamrock in the Carolinas.
In New England I did an appliqué cornucopia, to represent the first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts colony:
To represent African Americans I did West Africa embroidery and put in some Zulu shields:
I had never done any kind of appliqué before I did this “quilt” and so I am particularly proud of this appliqué eagle that fills the Great Pacific Great NorthWest:
This “quilt” is 100% sewn by hand. Not one stitch was done on a sewing machine. I even appliquéd the entire map by hand, sewing it onto a backing with a stitch that I invented (it’s like a buttonhole stitch, kid of) and then I stuffed it with polyester fill to make it “quilty”. People used to look at my stitching and say that they were so perfect that it looked like a machine did it, and they meant it as a compliment.
People who knew me as an embroiderer always used to assume that I approved of the cross stitch. I loathe, hate, and despise the cross stitch. If it’s not in a sampler made before 1850 please do not mention it to me. Cross stitching a stamped pattern is the lowest form of embroidery, the lowest level of “craft”, and I am very judgmental about people who cross stitch. I don’t like needlepoint either, but I can see more artistry in it than cross stitch.
I’ll admit it: I used to be a great embroiderer. But oh lordy, it used to take weeks and months to do one single garden and I used to get cramps in my hand from holding onto a needle for 10 hours at a time, so I gave it up. And now I paint.
And now, after almost nine years of painting, I am getting to a level where most of my watercolors don’t stink (I said most: I hope you saw last week’s post where I show how easy it is for me, still, to paint something putrid.)
Here’s my Watercolor of the Week, the garden of Key West that I was painting in the very beginning of this post:
I’ll be back on home turf next week, blogging more or less “live”, bringing you the sights from Paris, Giverny, and Marrakech. See you then!
If at first you don’t succeed, or if at second, third, and fourth you don’t succeed (see above) then pour yourself a nice big gin and tonic and sit around listening to sad songs (I prefer old Motown, the Temptations Since I Lost My Baby and the like) and feel sorry for yourself and seriously consider writing novels (ewwwwwwwwwww) or anything that doesn’t require having to come up with *$#**! illustrations and then take two aspirin AND START OVER AGAIN.
Yes, dear readers, I preloaded my post today before I went to France and it’s a good thing I did because it turns out that I hate blogging on my iPad with a PASSION but before we continue with our previously recorded program (still in NOLA, watercoloristically speaking) here are some pics I took on the aforementioned iPad to show you the beautiful weather in Paris:
My hotel room in the 6th arrondisement came with this:
I took these pics with my ipad and boy do I hate blogging on this thing. So that’s all the Paris I can give you for now, but do read my friend at www.parisbreakfasts.blogspot.com for her report on my arrival on her home (Paris) turf!
For today please enjoy the following tale of watercolor redemption, and take heart. Sometimes it’s necessary to paint ugly in order to get to the beautiful part.
Which reminds me. We have some unfinished business concerning last week’s ugly:
I did go back and re-do it:
The problem, it dawned on me after four really awful attempts at painting a most beautiful Fragrance Garden in New Orleans (see above), was that I had gotten hold of the wrong concept. My original idea for this Fragrance Garden was that it was the rare garden whose delicately scented parts were better than its over-all whole, so I thought I would illustrate it in a way that conveyed this feature, by painting it in patchwork bits, or glimpses, in a format that I call a “squint”.
The format had worked well for me throughout Le Road Trip, where I used squints frequently:
These squints – the long, narrow strips of paintings that I used (above) were a lot of fun to do and I think they are vey successful when it came to illustrating France. For the Damn Garden Book I had planned on using vertical squints, rather than the horizontal ones in Le Road Trip:
This is my thumbnail sketch for a two-page layout using vertical squints. But as you can see (way above, those crappy 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th attempts) it was NOT working for me in regards to this fabulous New Orleans garden I was trying to #**@!! paint.
And then I realized that I’d gotten the wrong point of view. Not only were the squints not going to work, but I’d been painting the garden from a very boring full-frontal point of view. You see, the most important feature of this garden path that I’d been trying to paint is the garden gate that had been imported from France, but I’d been depicting it straight-on:
Oh lordy, this stinks. It does no justice to the story I am trying to tell about this garden. It looks fake fake fake fake.
Luckily, when I was visiting this garden in New Orleans, I had taken many reference photos of this gate so I went back to the drawing board and re-did this gate from an entirely different perspective:
(I didn’t notice that cat hair on the drawing until just now. Sorry about that.)
So let us begin again.
First, I apply masking fluid with my trusty toothpick in the itty bitty bits:
I use the tip of a paintbrush to apply the masking fluid over the bigger bits:
When I failed to draw a pleasing mulberry tree branch in the upper right hand corner the first time…
…I erased it and drew it again, but it was still too gormless to keep:
So on the third attempt I got a decent-looking branch drawn, and I sketched in leaves.
I put masking fluid on those leaves and I’ve ever done this before and I have no idea how it will turn out. We’ll see. But I’m already a bit discouraged. This picture as given me a lot of trouble and I’m in a bad mood. So, while the masking fluid dries, I go make myself a cup of tea.
I want a fancy-colored sky here because this illustration is more about mood (it’s New Orleans, baby!) than meteorology.
Quickly, I do the wet-in-wet background foliage:
Even when the paper is only damp, you can get nice little bleeds:
For brick work I mix two colors of Grumbacher paints with two colors (brown and burnt sienna) of Windsor Newton, for richness:
See how there’s a Triscuit in the middle of this picture?
For the Tahitian Dawn Bougainvillea in the foreground I dab pink, orange, and red in wet blobs:
I lay down a base color for the garden path:
The stuff behind the garden gate will be tricky:
I forget the name of these beautiful flowers, but they are big pom poms of bluey-pink:
So far, so good. Now, all I have to do…
…is peel off the masking fluid and not screw up the gate.
To heighten the rich brown color of the wooden gate I mix blue…
…and brown directly on my paintbrush…
…so when I apply it to the paper I get a wonderful bluey-browness here:
Now for those mulberry leaves, which I have no idea what I’m doing, I pray to the big DoG that I won’t blow it this late in the game:
Exhale. They look OK.
For the lantern I intend to use an old trick I’ve been using for years.
You have to use Grumbacher paints for this trick, because you need the chalk that makes their colors so matte. I first apply a layer of yellow Grumbacher, and then I make an edge of darker orange and I let it dry thoroughly:
Using very clean water, I then use a wet brush to pick up the paint in the center:
And we are DONE:
I hope you can see how the lantern “glows” from the way I “erased” a bit of the yellow/orange paints. I decided to leave certain planes of the garden gate white — that is, blank paper — because I think the white bits make its unusual shape pop more this way. It’s also very attention-getting and this gate is really the subject of this picture in the first place.
Oh yes, I am much happier with this point of view than the one I tried, and tried, and tried, and tried to make work before. Right?
I will still be on the road next Friday, so there won’t be a “live” post here, but I could maybe take you on a tour of my work space / studio, which is where I keep my paints, paper, feathers, files, and threads:
Yes, long before I painted gardens, I used to embroider them.
So if this sounds interesting to you please leave a Comment below…or otherwise I’ll just wait until my return on May 24 to throw something together if I’m not toooooooo jet lagged. Studio tour? Yes or No?
In addition to painting a big ole New Orleans French Quarter vue this week we will also be catching up on important issues of the day which includes the recent appearance of a possible new member of our herd of backyard cats:
No, that’s not a new Wanderer, that’s just good ole house cat Penelope playing Goldilocks in Top Cat’s tomato seedling planters in the living room. Please note that she started her bed-hopping with the planter of special cat-snack grass that was grown just for her (which Penelope didn’t snack on as much as she parked her butt in). Carol, who mentioned “cats with jobs” in her Comment last week: No, smooshing house plants is not in Penelope’s job description. I think this is what is known in corporate circles as “added value”.
Here’s what I want you to see re: herd news :
This handsome fella has shown up on the back patio for breakfast a few days this past week in spite of the fact that Bibs and Taffy get all North Korean on his ass every time they see him. I call him Newton. Hey Newton, if you’re reading this, I got some cat nip just for you (at the end of a Have-A-Heart trap).
The other News that I want to weigh in on is this:
Good on you, Justin Collins, I know you’re raising consciousness throughout the land and lordy knows there are way too many people sleep-walking in our society. Now, I get most of my news from a conservative right-wing London on-line newspaper (American newspapers just don’t keep up with Posh Spice and Russell Brand like I need )so I when read the Comments to this news item I found the usual number of postings from other U.S. reader blaming it all on Obama but also some Comments about how boring this “news” is (which is better than hostility, non?) but mostly the Comments were overwhelmingly supportive. Good on you, people of the world, for evolving. However, I salute one particular Commentor for his keen sensibility and profound humanity which he articulated in a Comment that stands out for representing an entirely unique and thought-provoking perspective on this culture-shifting event. That Comment was, in its entirety: Are those his real teeth?
And lastly, I just want to go on the record and say that I never liked Ann Curry . I find her really annoying and fake and needy. Whew. I’ve wanted to shout this out to the world since 1997. I really can’t stand her.
Now, what is this I hear (from Rachel and Sarahsbooks in Comments to last week’s post) about The Bed-book of Travel??? First of all, I thought I had written the bed-book of travel…
(No, that’s not the book I wrote — these are bedside tables made of books, which is a very awful idea and nobody better do that to MY book.) I thought I’d already written the travel book that was made for bed-side reading…
…but it seems that somebody else, namely Richardson Wright, beat me to it in the 1930s:
The Bed-book of Travel is a collection of short pieces to be read (preferably in bed or berth) by those who have been places, those who are going somewhere, and those who have wanted to go; Together with seven travelers’ tales. This book is now very rare and the one copy I found on-line last week for sale for $70 is already gone. I snoozed and loosed because I spent a few days mulling over this purchase, wondering if I really wanted to read this book seeing as how, if it turned out to be soooooo much better a bed-side travel book than mine, I will want to quit writing/illustrating bed-side books forever.
But the book that I really dread reading is this one:
This is Richardson Wright’s 1929 Bed-book about gardening (in paperback re-print from The Modern Library) which I bought am awaiting delivery and if it’s half as good as its reviews say it is I AM TOAST. And not a nice slice of hot-buttered whole wheat served with a steaming cup of Assam tea kind of toast, nope. I mean a hunk of cardboard-like salt-free rancid Melba that’s been sitting in the cupboard leaning on the stack of Size D batteries waiting for cassette playing boom boxes to come back in style kind of toast.
I wanted my Damn Garden Book to be THE go-to gardening book for reading in bed…but if it’s already been done I might as well retire my paintbrushes and take up something useful.
Like waitressing. Ooooo!! I know just where I’d run to:
Yes, I know that waitressing at a beloved New Orleans institution like Cafe du Monde would be more physically demanding than being the pale imitation of Richardson Wright the classic bed-side book writer …
(I was backstage at Cafe du Monde when I visited NOLA last month and I saw how crazy hectic it gets)
…but I think the handsomeness of certain customers could be, how do you say … energizing:
What can I say? I could go for a lawyer-type citizen of The Crescent City who shares my deep love for powdered sugar.
Also, as I imagined how perfect my life would be if I lived in the French Quarter with Cafe de Monde within crawling distance and open 24 hours a day, I had to look long and nostalgically at this guy to make sure he wasn’t Will Smith c. Independence Day 1996, taking a picture of his beignets with a historically inaccurate iPhone:
And then there was this guy, looking all 007-ish:
Those international men of mystery are so hard to photograph while I’m trying to act natural around and avoid eye contact with so he won’t know I am making him my sugar-fueled Cafe du Monde Crush of the Day :
But nothing brings me back to the best of all possible worlds i.e., real life, with more non-powdered-sugar-based bliss than seeing my own personal Sean Connery / Top Cat do his French Quarter Dance:
Ah, Love of my Life, nobody does a Grateful Dead-inspired free-form solo version of Zydeco Swing like you:
Those 007′s are hard to photograph when you are laughing too hard over your stupid good fortune in finding such a fancy-stepping international man of mystery to call your own. xxoo.
Well, seeing as how I am not yet a reclusive former bed-side travel / gardening book writer illustrator, I better get with the travel / gardening book illustrating. It’s time to do New Orleans!
This is the pencil sketch for the full-page illustration that will start the NOLA chapter. It is designed so I can drop text into the middle of it. It is rare (never) that I use a ruler to draw a scene but in this case it was unavoidable with all those necessary straight lines of wrought iron railings and all those pesky perspective lines to get right. To answer Laura’s question from last week, I never attempt to erase pencil lines once I’ve put watercolor over them. It’s impossible to erase thru the pigment. Most times, tho, I don’t mind seeing a little bit of pencil in a painting because it is a ver authentic part of painting.
When it comes to erasing the watercolor, however, I have been known to use a nail file to clean up very small bits.
First, I painted in a quick bit of background architecture in pale blue, to represent a white building in bright sunlight (which will become more evident later in the painting):
Dab in the background greenery:
Working wet-in-wet I dab in the pale greens and add detail until I like the shape of the foliage:
Commentor Judy Jennings asked about getting “natural” shades of green. To tell you the truth, all my greens are unnatural in that I edit nature all the time. My shades and hues are mostly close to the scene that I’ve observed, but if I need to lighten bits up and darken others for the sake of the picture, I do it. I also edit the shape of foliage all the time — see above. I make it a pleasing shape for my composition first, and true to nature second.
My biggest guess regarding Judy’s question about getting a “natural” paint color is that you must always keep your water CLEAN. I constantly dump out my water and get clean fresh stuff. Especially if I am going to mix yellows into green I always get a brand new glass of water. And if I have to work wet-in-wet with lots of yellows AND greens I have two glasses of water handy, one for rinsing the yellow brush-fulls and one for rinsing the green brush-fulls.
For shadows I use blue with a bit of burnt umber mixed in it instead of black or grey:
Now I use masking fluid to cover the table and chairs so I can cut loose with the stuff I want to paint behind them:
While waiting for the masking fluid to become bone-dry, I do the middle-ground stuff:
I pretend the table and chairs aren’t there and paint the railing-drapping greenery right over the masking fluid:
I could never do this without masking fluid. Well, I could, but it would either look bad or would take me forever to paint:
Peel off masking fluid, paint what is revealed underneath:
Even down to the stems of the wine glasses, which I measured or you and are three millimeters high:
Take a look, and add whatever else this picture needs:
Not there yet::
I bumped up the shadow interest by adding purple and it’s brighter in person than this photo shows. Remember, text will be dropped into the middle of it, which is why there’s a “dead” area there.
P.S. I will probably have to do this over again. I learned a lot from this first go-round, and there are things that I know I would do better in version 2.0. C’est la vie.
So now I’m off for two weeks in France: Paris and Giverny; then to Marrakech to see the Majorelle Garden. To give you a preview of the two posts that I have for you in the queue, next week we will see how I manage to paint four really, really, really, really hidious stoooopid pictures of my New Orleans Fragrance Garden…
…before I happily get it right finally (no, that’s not it above — this picture above stinks!!!!) ; and then the week after that I give you a tour of the knicks and knacks of my workspace:
I will have my iPad with me in France etc. and Carol of the highly chic, fabulously popular Paris Breakfast blog is going to show me how to post from any cafe … so I might be able to send you all a few pictures and a quick update while I’m on the road.
How much you want to bet that what I post will be photos of great French cats?
P.S. Comments on this post will close after five days (nothing personal; it’s the spam, and closing Comments after five days keeps the spam to a manageable level of about 3,000 messages per week) so, if you’re reading this on Wednesday or later, please join us again on the following Friday. Merci mucho.
Isn’t that why we paint? Or is that why we travel? Or both? This week’s watercolor demonstration will be all about escape — because you know what they say: painting your dream hidden garden is almost as good as escaping into your dream hidden garden. I’ve been back from New Orleans a whole week but I’m still under the spell of that city’s magical private tropical sanctuaries…
…especially since it is still cold (still cranking up my electric blankie at night, and dressing in fleece from head to toe during the day) and dismal (rain today, and yesterday, and tomorrow) here on Long Island. Ahhhh, to be back in the French Quarter…
…where every cup of tea is full of possibilities, both psychic…
And as if that weren’t enough bliss to get you through the day, the Quarter also has a fantastic book store culture. I started my Book Shop Quest with Beckham’s Books on Decatur Street:
First things first. Before I paid any attention to the books I had to get a good picture of the book shop cat, Juniper:
Who, of course, was not going to help me one bit.
You’ll notice that while not running away altogether, Juniper did everything possible to stay out of focus.
There’s ten more photos of more of the same blurry cat-like object…and even some pix of a disappeared cat:
So let’s focus on the sure thing at Beckham’s Books: GREAT BOOKS!
Finding this on my first day in New Orleans was the omen that convinced me that this was going to be the best New Orleans trip ever:
I already treasure my copies of The Silent Traveler in Paris and The Silent Traveler in Edinburgh – Chiang Yee (1903 – 1977) was a traveling memoirist, like me, who also illustrated his wanderings in ten books under his “Silent Traveler” persona in the 1940s to the 1970s. Yee was in San Francisco in the 1950s but his book wasn’t published until 1963.
Cable car on California Street.
I love reading travel memoirs from The Golden Age of Travel (capital-T Travel died in 1978), and if there’s pictures, so much the better:
Japanese Bridge at Golden Gate Park, the same bridge I romped on in 1966 when I was 10 years old.
It was when I went back to Beckham’s Books two days later that I finally got a good picture of Juniper, the Book Shop Cat:
Ever seen a cat bird-dog someone’s cafe-au-lait? Only in New Orleans, my dear readers, only in New Orleans.
And I found another treasure!
Irwin Shaw (1913 – 1984), author of the 1970s best seller Rich Man, Poor Man, writes here about his first visit to Paris on the day of its liberation from the Nazis on August 25, 1944 and of his life as an ex-pat in The City of Light in the 1950s – 1970s. And as if that weren’t thrilling enough, there’s illustrations by Ronald Searle!
Searle (1920 – 2011) has a delicious sense of humor about Paris that is both timeless, and very 1970s (Paris! Paris! was published in 1976).
In Ronald Searle’s Paris even the dogs smoke Gaulois.
There are 35 wonderful illustrations in Paris! Paris!
The good people and cat at Beckham’s Books offer a free map to all the other book shops in the French Quarter, so my next stop was at Crescent City Books on Chartres Street:
And to prove that my entire visit to NOLA was charmed, I got there just as their book shop cat went on duty:
I can vow to the 100% truth of this sign:
Oh, Isabel, I love you so:
Upstairs at Crescent City Books you will find the Gardening Section, near Isabel’s bed (on those old wooden stadium seats) and her litter box (under the Sale table).
Is this not the best title you ever saw for a gardening book?
Of course I bought it. It was published in London in 1973 and I don’t know if you know anything about London in 1973, but that was not a sparkling year for garden writing of the bedside variety. I imagined stories of delightful garden get-aways, fantastic garden follies, quaint garden indulgences, dreamy garden escapes…
…instead, I got a book of guaranteed garden enervation.
In 1970s England, Less Common Vegetables were egg-plant, sweet pepper, and “cob corn”, which the reader is instructed to boil for 15 minutes before eating. Y-a-w-nnnnnnn.
So I guess it does live up to its cover, in a sleep-aiding way. So that means that if I want to read my perfect Gardener’s Bedside Book I’ll have to write it. Unless one of my dear readers does it first. Any volunteers?
Next, I hit the elegant Faulkner House book store on Pirate’s Alley…
…and I bought a book (I always buy something when I go to a book store, because I want book stores and their cats to always be there for me), a new guide book about New Orleans.
I asked about a book store cat, but they have a book store poodle here and she was napping upstairs. “She’s in a mood today,” I was told.
Next it was on to Kitchen Witch on Toulouse Street…
…which sells nothing but cooking and food-related books, which is why they use an old oven as a book case:
They had three dogs on duty here, but I only took a photo of Jackson the Basset Hound because I did not want to disturb the other two, who were sleeping in a corner. I did not by a book here — see those amber bottles on the table in front of the toaster (below)? That’s the house’s special red-beans-and-rice-spice that they sell, which I bought so I can not only read New Orleans when I am back home on dreary Long Island, I can taste it too.
Lastly, there was Arcadian Books on Orleans Street:
It’s run by a French-speaking American scholar with a strong French-speaking clientele and a slight hoarding tendency:
You can read more about this amazing place here but let me quote from a previous visitor:
Some day in this place, the wrong butterfly will land on the wrong bookcase, which will tip over, and the whole joint will go down in a cloud of book dust and really heavy hardbacks…Meaning, this is the most chaotic, crammed, beautiful bookstore in the city. It’s like a portrait of the whole project of reading/knowledge: messy, hard to make sense of, and full of more than you’ll ever have time to take in or understand.
The proprietor, however, is shockingly put together and squeaky clean…
And handsome, too, I might add…and on his bulletin board behind his desk, this made me laugh out loud:
Then again, I always find the conditional subjunctive tense hilarious. It loses something in the translation, but this obviously well-to-do sweater-vested middle-aged inhabitant of the seizieme is using a very literary kind of speech to say to his plump little wife, “I should make myself acquainted with a great poet, so that he can have the benefit of my melancholy.” (Note to Jain: I know you’re reading this on your iPhone, so here’s the French caption that you can’t see in this photo: Il faudrait que je fasse la connaissance d’un grand poete, afin qu’il puisse beneficier de ma melancolie. Yes, it’s much funnier in French.)
Note the cat under the coffee table — that counts as the book store cat here. I bought a book of maps of New Orleans that is on my desk right next to me as I type this.
Not only do we not have second hand book stores with cats or basset hounds or French-speaking curators here on Long Island, we also don’t have any damn blooming gardens yet in this bitter cold and disappointing Spring. So I have to paint one:
This is a real garden in London, surrounded by high yellowish brick walls:
I was there on a sunny day (Ahhh! I almost remember what a sunny day was like….), so I have to make the background the color of sunbeams:
Quick, while it’s still wet, I have to blob in some pale greenery:
And more greenery:
Dark greens for the middle ground:
Add shadows, and we’re done:
Now, for the foreground, we paint a first layer of greenery (I’m afraid I’m going to have to use the word “green” in may variations for this post):
Add detail using middle-value greens:
Add contrast with very dark green:
But be careful not to over-do it:
I draw guiding lines on top of watercolor here because after I paint in these bricks I will erase the pencil lines:
Lastly, I hold my breath and paint the grille. If I screw up at this final step I will have wasted hours and hours of work:
I painted this wall correctly, but its asymmetry just looks like a mistake now that I look at it which just goes to show, you always have to EDIT when you paint from life (or reference photos).
This is the entrance to a walled garden in London that I will probably not tell you about until I publish the Damn Garden Book, because a girl needs her secrets. I’m painting my London chapter this month because I’ve tried and tried and tried to paint New Orleans and so far I SUCK so until I get the hang of capturing the je ne sais pas of a New Orleans garden I will stick with what I DO know.
This post is dedicated to Top Cat, who tells me I don’t write about him often enough. If I didn’t think that this post was too loooooong already, I’d show you photos of him dancing in the street in the French Quarter, which if you dear readers aren’t sick of NOLA yet I’ll blog next week –my last post before I head off to Paris, Giverny, and Marrakech, where I hope to make the acquaintance of a great poet so that he can make good use of my melancholy.
P.S. Dear readers, because of renewed spam activity, I will have to close Comments on my blog after five days. So, if you are reading this on Wednesday or later, I’m sorry to say that you will not be able to leave your message but it’s nothing personal. I’m here every Friday — hope to see you here too.
If you love the fleur-de-lis you’ll love New Orleans:
I don’t know if they put fleur-de-lis ornaments on their Christmas trees in France but I’m sure they do in New Orleans…
…because in New Orleans they put the fleur-de-lis on everything:
Neither the fleur-de-lis nor the famed New Orleans frame of mind (Laissez les bon temps rouler) is just for tourists…
…because it wasn’t only tourists who were dancing in the streets for French Quarter Festival last week:
Of course, you don’t need a festival in the French Quarter to laissez les bon temps rouler – the good times roll on every street corner:
…and IN every street:
Just some fun loving gals taking their Hurricanes for a ride.
Only in New Orleans is it OK to take your Hurricane to go in a fleur-de-lis “go cup“:
Or, you can just “Go” with Michael Jackson booming from the woofers in your hi-rise Chevy as your rouler down Chartres Street:
The driver got a round of applause from the Sikh bros on the left. Only in New Orleans, dear readers, only in New Orleans.
The only reason that the Segway is not more popular in NOLA…
…is because there’s no damn cup holder for your Hurricane. No cup holder needed here:
Where I live on Long Island, I can go years without seeing a guy in kilt walking down the street. I was in New Orleans for four days and I saw two guys in kilts:
This fella from Houma, LA swore that this is the Louisiana tartan. I never doubt the word of a guy wearing a kilt with a go cup in his hand. But I digress…weren’t we talking about how much the fleur-de-lis is beloved by New Orleanians? Right:
I saw this guy (above) keeping it real in golden threads in Treme. And when I had my Tarot cards read at Bottom of the Tea Cup in the Quarter, my psychic was keeping it real in rhinestones:
You never know where you’re going to find the fleur-de-lis:
You never know:
What New Orleans garden would be complete without a fleur-de-lis?
You see, my visit to New Orleans was work. Oh, yes, I was working, thank you very much!
Wait a sec. I have to stop laughing. Work. In New Orleans. That’s a good one. But if anybody from the IRS is reading this yes, I was working while I was in New Orleans!! I was there to hunt down that special New Orleans garden voodoo for my upcoming Damn Garden Book. (Bragging rights to whoever can spot the flour-de-lis in this picture:)
This is me, hard at work, interviewing the inspirational gardener Karen Kersting on her lush fragrance garden in the heart of New Orleans:
That’s Little Bee on my lap. Her name is really Bijoux but that’s too big a name for such a pocket-sized pup so she’s called Little Bee. I wish my cats would let me have a dog.
Yes, dear readers and any lurking IRS investigators, I was working to hunt down garden secrets in NOLA, peeping into every hidden courtyard…
…sticking my nose through any iron grille between me and any archbishop’s private sanctuary…
…photographing any hidden Eden when my head wouldn’t fit through the gate…
…no refuge was too private for me to trespass. Note the ADORABLE cat door here:
You know I had to take every opportunity to meet the cats of New Orleans, like this good ole boy we came across while visiting Top Cat’s alma mater Tulane University:
I did not know New Orleans until Top Cat took me on the Top Cat New Orleans Experience for the first time in 2004 and made me crazy for NOLA — and every visit since then has only made me more besotted with the place. Top Cat was a philosophy major at Tulane and, as you can see from above, Tulane has a gracious campus full of gracious scholars and no, that’s not Spanish Moss hanging from that gracious old Sawtooth Oak in one of the many gracious quads on campus:
This photo makes me wonder why on Earth anyone bothers to go to college anywhere else:
In a future blog I will have to tell you all about the fabulous bookstores in New Orleans and their fabulous book store cats…
…or dogs, as the case may be:
But today I am telling you about how New Orleans loves the fleur-de-lis…especially the City of New Orleans:
City government can’t get nothing done without a fleur-de-lis:
The French government gifted the City of New Orleans with this statue of The Maid of Orleans (Joan of Arc) and that’s the city flag flying its fleurs-de-lis next to the French Tricoleur, all at half mast for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing:
Evil will not prevail.
Homeowners fly the flag, too:
Even in the ritzy Garden District, they fly the flag:
Windows like this tempt me to turn into a Peeping Tom for the fleur-de-lis:
I think I might have to explain that this is perfectly good English in New Orleans:
Here’s a clue:
The Saints are New Orleans’ Super Bowl-winning football team, by the way.
To correctly use the word Dat in a New Orleans sentence, all you need to do is say :
Who Dat Say Dey Gonna Beat Dem Saints?
New Orleanians love the fleur-de-lis so much…
…they even bury themselves with it in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1:
But oh! The colors of New Orleans!
Oh! The color of nature in New Orleans!
Every house is a garden color!
And the windows!
On Royal Street the windows speak the truth:
America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland. Don’t blame me (I love the Cleveland and the Cleveland Museum of Art but you have to admit, the name Cleveland is perfect for a punch line — anybody from Cleveland want to weigh in?) — Tennessee Williams said that.
This hot new dining spot…
…reminds me that I haven’t told you about the food. Oh, the food of New Orleans!
Beignets at Cafe du Monde is just the appetizer! (Southern people love their sweets, is all I can say about the photo below.)
You know what they say: If you weren’t already five pounds overweight when you got to New Orleans…
…you will be when you leave.
This is ONE sandwich, a five-pound fried clam/shrimp/oyster sandwich with chopped lettuce etc. called a muffuletta:
Top Cat’s lunch. I just watched, in awe.
You can also get it with a side bowl of gumbo at Johnny’s Po Boy:
Thanks to Chef Kevin Belton (“Big Kevin” cus he’s 6’9″ 300 lbs) at The New Orleans School of Cooking we now know how to whip up some chicken étouffée, and how to correctly pronounce New Orleans.
Note the fleur-de-lis on Big Kev’s apron. Just saying.
Big Kevin says that “New Orleeeens” was bastardized just so it could rhyme with “Do you know what it means / to miss…” The proper way to say it is “New Or-lee-ins” or, if you are tenth generation Cajun or true Creole, “Nawlins”.
Meanwhile, over at the famous Mother’s Restaurant…
…I had a bowl of their specialty Baked Spaghetti Pie (with green beans and corn):
Yeah, that’s Velveeta on top.
I can’t say it was the best thing I ever ate. But Top Cat keeps saying over and over that the charbroiled oysters at Drago’s oyster bar are THE BEST THINGS HE’S EVER EATEN IN HIS WHOLE LIFE:
Of course I had to go to THE Sazerac Bar in the swanky Roosevelt Hotel to have my Official New Orleans Sazerac Cocktail:
Behind my debonair bartender that’s a silver yachting cup won by one of the Astors in 1910. There is no Roosevelt memorabilia in the Roosevelt Hotel because that would make too much sense and this is New Orleans, baby.
We also had dinner there in the Roosevelt at Domenica’s (astonishing Italian cuisine) — because on the flight out of LaGuardia I had the good fortune to sit next to a NOLA native who recommended the place as a worthy adjutant to NOLA seafood while she also advised me that a dose of Xanax might reduce my screaming at take-off. I’m petrified of flying — just what you’d expect from a Travel Memoirist, right? — but then Valbourg invited me to meet her circle of friends over coffee who included the great Travel Writer Millie Ball (read her latest round-the-world article in the L.A. Times here and yes, she said it: Queen Latifa is her muse) and Millie confessed that she doesn’t know how to pack. So I’m in good company when it comes to Travel Writer Irony.
Also while I was WORKING in New Orleans (wait a sec…still laughing) I was the guest speaker at the Rotary Club in The University District and I mentioned that I would move to NOLA but then I’d have no place to spend vacation. So OF COURSE one of the Rotarians said “Move here and you’ll always be on vacation” because THAT’s THE WAY THEY DO IT IN NEW ORLEANS. And then Rotarian Michael B. swept me and Top Cat off to Bywater for an outstanding Turkish dinner because THAT’s THE WAY THEY DO IT IN NEW ORLEANS.
Dear readers, I regret that I only took 463 photos during my 94 hours in New Orleans. I wish I had recorded every 5,640 minutes of my visit — every second, every breath of New Orleans air is precious to me. Thank you Karen, Valborg (violist with the New Orleans Philharmonic), Michael B., Selena, Dougie, Mme. Trudeau, Glori-A, and the many citizens of NOLA who serve food, drive trolly cars, keep hotels, sell books, play music, walk around in kilts, make gardens, cook crawfish/oyster/shrimp/etc., write stories, give tours, and preserve and renew The Crescent City on a daily basis: you make me know what it means to miss New Orleans.
And now, I announce this week’s winner of my Triscuit of NOLA is…
Here’s how this works: On blog post day I see how many Comments have been posted on the last blog and I say to Top Cat, “Pick a number between One and [However Many Comments Are Posted On The Last Blog] and he picks a number and I find whose Comment is that ordinal. I always think that whoever wins the give-away watercolor of the day is exactly who I would choose…but this just goes to show you that my Top Cat has access to the spheres. Chris W., congratulations.
I’ll be back next week with a watercolor tutorial — in the meantime feel free to browse this previous Watercolor Turtorial because it’s cold and grey and dull here on Long Island and this is the only thing that’s good about being here instead of New Orleans.
Maybe you can tell by this week’s painting demonstration that I am in NEW ORLEANS this weekend! (If you’re in a hurry for a painting lesson and Give Away of this watercolor of the French Quarter, skip to bottom of post. But you’ll miss out on my Lesson in Connoisseurship. I’m just saying.)
Yes, this weekend Top Cat and I are haunting the the great gardens, bars, restaurants, cemeteries, and museums in our favorite American city which means that in addition to guzzling sazeraks and gorging on beignets we are feasting our eyes on this stuff :
The New Orleans Museum of Art is home to the Matilda Geddings Gray collection of Faberge — which includes three imperial eggs (left to right above: the 1893 Causcasus Egg, the 1912 Napoleonic Egg, the 1890 Danish Palaces Egg — the mother of the last czar, Nicholas, was a Danish princess). In all my previous trips to NOLA I have managed to avoid the New Orleans Museum of Art but this time a visit is necessary because lately I’ve had to brush up on my Faberge-looking-at skills…
This is a real Faberge egg, non-imperial, called The Apple Blossom Egg that I sold at Christie’s in the mid-1990s.
Last week I got an email from a complete stranger which is always fun, right? This stranger asked me to look at a piece of “Faberge” jewelry going on sale in a small out-of-the-way auction in the English countryside. He thought he might have discovered an out-of-the-way Faberge treasure, and he asked if could I advise him on authenticity and bidding strategy (seeing as I am a
world famous / once famous/ famous in my own mind former Faberge expert for Christie’s auction house).
This is a copy of The Apple Blossom Egg.
I only had photos to look at but still, it was easy to spot several things about the piece that seemed off. Such as, there was wear and tear in places that didn’t make sense unless the object had been assembled from several unrelated pieces. But the No. 1 thing that was wrong about the item was that it was ugly. So I told him it was fake fake fake. Faberge doesn’t make ugly.
Here’s where I make you a Faberge Connoisseur in ten minutes: Maybe you heard about this story that was in the news last month:
My mother sent me this news item about a man from Ohio who is suing the “antiques dealer” who sold him several fake Faberge items including a fake Faberge egg mounted on a snuff box for $165,000. Wait. There are people IN OHIO smart enough to have $165,000 in spare change but still dumb enough to blow it on obvious fake Faberge? Yes, this egg is an obvious fake – Faberge eggs go for $5 – 20 million dollars (you pay more if Romanoff hands ever touched it) so your first lesson in Ten Minute Connoisseurship is that if you bought your Faberge egg for a measly $165,000 you probably bought a fake. Because this is what $165,000 buys you in Faberge World:
This is a one-inch tall wax seal thingy with impeccable Imperial provenance dating from its purchase in 1910 by the Dowager Czarina Marie Feodorovna (the Danish princess) directly from Fabergé in St. Petersburg. The owl is jade with diamond eyes and the piece still has its original box, which is worth lots of money to a collector. The seal is made of gold and do you see the color of the enamel? It’s a shade of pink that is highly sought after (and worth extra $$$$) by connoisseurs. This is the famous Faberge pink — maybe you can see it better in this object:
Or this one:
This is the 1890 Danish Palaces Egg in the New Orleans Museum of Art.
This luscious opalescent pink enamel is uniquely Faberge. It can only be achieved by layering a citron or tangerine-colored enamel underneath a pink enamel in two separate firings, a tedious and delicate process that is beyond the skill of most enamelers (not that anybody these days is doing real enamel any more).
Your second lesson in Ten Minute Connoisseurship is that if your Faberge egg is mounted on a snuff box it is fake. Why?
Faberge never made ugly, which is why Faberge would never make an egg mounted on a snuff box. The concept is ugly because it doesn’t make sense.
A snuff box that has a big fat Faberge egg on it would be useless, since snuff boxes are small and meant to be carried in a gentleman’s pocket. So a snuff box with a knick-knack on top of it is an ugly concept that just does not make sense. Or, I should say, it makes as much sense as a whistle with a bud vase attached to it, a toothbrush that is also a remote control for your TV, or a stopwatch on your hairband. Dumb is ugly, and ugly is fake.
So now, dear readers, now that you are connoisseurs, you know how to avoid making a $165,000 mistake when you are shopping for Faberge.
It’s not just Faberge that I hold to a high standard when it comes to ugly. I also hold myself to that criteria: I do not stuff my books with any old illustration that comes off my itty bitty brain. I painted two pictures last week that are utterly ugly:
A walled garden in London that doesn’t look anything like the walled garden in London I was trying to paint. That’s supposed to be Victorian architecture in the background. Ew.
This is the beginning of a miniature painting that I call a “squint” (because it’s long and narrow, which reminds me of squinting my eyes). I got this far into the picture when I became convinced that it wasn’t working. Which is very annoying, because I love painting squints. My Damn France Book is loaded with them:
And yes, when I spend hours on paintings that are ugly it puts me in a very bad mood. I start looking on Craig’s List for jobs that are better suited to my total lack of talent. I almost mop the kitchen floor before I remember that I hate housework even more than I hate being a failure as an illustrator. I consider ditching the Damn Garden Book and writing porn instead (porn, even bad porn, sells).
But on this day I made myself a nice big G&T and sat our in the backyard because this week we had two and a half days in a row with sun shine and above 70-degree weather!!
Taffy in his Sphinx pose.
This was the first time in 2013 that you could step out of your house and smell real, lush, vegetative scents in the air. Grass, forsythia, turned-over garden dirt…ahhhhhhhh. The fragrance of living things! Time to sit outdoors and enjoy a Happy Hour G&T in the golden rays!!
Lickety right after he sneezed into my gin and tonic.
No word yet on the big giant rabbit I want to add to my herd of Purely Decorative Furry Beings of Irresistible Cuteness. But as you can see, maybe we’ve achieved maximum adorableness already here in Vivian World.
And the next day it was grey, and cold, and miserable to I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan to see how REAL ARTISTS GET IT DONE:
I went to the American Wing and gazed at early American portraits of cats.
Fur Trappers in a boat on the Missouri River: I thought this was cat until I looked really really closely and saw that it was a dog:
This is the entrance to the American Wing:
This is the view of Central Park from the atrium here:
And here is a view of Versailles from a panorama c. 1820 in the American Wing:
Yeah, I thought that was weird too. I really enjoyed the rooms that have been salvaged from stately mansions of pre-Revolutionary America…
…for obvious reasons:
And during a stroll to the exit I came across this:
It’s the entire Matilda Gedding Gray collection of Faberge from the New Orleans Museum of Art!!!
WTF? All three Imperial eggs are right here, in New York City! Well ain’t that a kick in the pants? (BTW, as usual the eggs were displayed in a case that was far too low. Faberge needs to be displayed at eye-level, please, and make that eye-level for a person who is 5-foot-six, please.)
OK! Let’s make some New Orleans art! Because lord knows that next week I’ll probably be too hungover to draw a straight line!
I’m using my No. 0 size brush, the one that I cut half the bristles out of…so really it’s a No. -1 (negative one) size brush.
For the iron filigree I’m using my Rapidograph pen:
And voila, today’s triscuit: (Delicious baked wheat snack cracker included for scale.)
However, this might suit the subject matter better:
If you would like to own this Triscuit of New Orleans for your own gallery, just leave a Comment below and Top Cat will pick a winer TBA next week.
It is 40 degrees F and pouring rain as I type this for you on Friday morning on Long Island. I’m off to NOLA in 30 hours. Plllllllleeeeeze let there be lightness and warmth and sun and GARDENS! And dear readers, if I find any those things in NOLA, you’ll see it right here next week.