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So I got a Comment on my About Me page from “Anonymous” last week:

Please stop your language about Trump. I like your books and tutorials, but your vulgar political comments are a real detriment to your blog.

Well, “Anonymous”, (it takes real courage to post a criticism while you hide behind anonymity — and I’m taking to you, “Anonymous” in Overland Park, Kansas), you are free to stop reading my FREE blog and my FREE tutorials any time my opinions give you and your delicate sensibilities the vapors.

OK, now I can tell you why I wasn’t here last week. It’s because I was in Hell.

Specifically, I was in a Destination-Four-Freaking-Day-Wedding Hell. FOUR DAY WEDDING. What kind of people need that much validation?

The destination was Lake Tahoe, California side, which is the side that schlumps around in a strangely entitled neo-Woodstock daze in clothes that would be far more sightly on someone 75 pounds lighter: I had no internet, no TV, no phone, no radio, and just enough hot water for one of us — but not both — to take a nice shower once a day. Not to mention the fun fun fun of being at the beck and call of “The Never Ending Wedding Plan”, which included an utterly revolting, esthetically disgusting, and completely immoral Pig Roast. It was vile, vulgar, and practically vivisectionist.

Suffice it to say, The Wedding and I did not share the same values.

However, the journey started with the very best of karma on the Jet Blue flight to Reno, where the passenger in Row 13, Seat A made me ever so happy that I was the passenger in Row 14, Seat B:

Loki here (that’s his name, Loki) made up for sitting on the tarmac for FA at JFK for an hour and a half. In-flight entertainment on Jet Blue sucks, so by the time we arrived at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport at midnight I’d watched the live action Beauty and the Beast for the second and third time in my life. (A week later we left Reno on the red eye at midnight, and I watched Beauty and the Beast for the fourth time in my life. Emma Watson, cute and lithe as she is, has only two different facial expressions throughout the film.)

Things we did in 24 hours in Reno:

1. Had a gut-busting breakfast at Peg’s Glorified Ham and Eggs. They serve two kinds of eggs with hash browns and two slaws in a frying pan, with beans on the side. It seems that beans on the side is a staple in this part of the country. I give that a big thumbs-up.

2. Gave moral support to the patriots of the Tuesday Resist group in front of the federal building in downtown Reno:

3.  Found a dead bird on the sidewalk . . . 

. . . took it to the best bookstore in town . . .

. . . found the shadiest spot in the miniature zen garden there . . .

. . . and said farewell to its little soul:

4. After laying bird to rest, Top Cat bought me the new David Sederis book, Theft by Finding. It is more subversive than his previous books, which gives me hope because we’re practically the same age and I hope to become less and less conformist and conciliatory as I age.

5. Walked around my old high school:

 The place was so empty, so eerily quiet, that Top Cat and I thought that the school year must have ended, so we felt free to stroll around and take photos:

And then a bell rang . . .

. . . and I kept taking photos.  Top Cat and I wondered why no one in authority questioned us for being creepy, or calling for a lock down. This is Nevada — what; are these kids armed? And ready to take care of themselves at the first sign of trouble? This, of course, supposes that Top Cat and I look dangerous, which in our minds we do.

I took my last year of high school here in 1973 and have not been back since, and this visit did not jog any strong feelings about the place. It’s my old junior high, Upper Moreland Junior High in Willow Grove PA, built in 1929 and torn down c. 1975, that haunts me as the place I dream of whenever I feel vulnerable and need to find myself in a maze situation from which I must escape. Earl J. Wooster High School holds no terror for me, awake or asleep.

6. Dipped into the pool at The Peppermill Casino and Hotel to cool off in the 90-degree afternoon, and for two hours watched six heavily tattooed 20-somethings get so drunk poolside that one girl had to crawl out of the shallow end to her towel, and then had to be led, like a blind person, off the premises.

7. Cleaned off the chlorine and drove southwest to see old V. Swift residence. We got invited inside to have a look around inside, had a wonderful chat with new owners (who were born in the 1980s — THE 1980s!). It looks like this now:

And looked like this in 1973 when I thought it was huuuuge (but now seems so small that I was astonished by the size of the bedroom that me and my sister shared, a room so small that by the standards of these days would almost amount to child abuse):

8. Stopped by Home Goods, my absolute favorite store, to see what the Reno in-crowd is demanding from the premier retailer of good taste. Actually, it was small and dark and unexciting. Shopping Note: Before we headed out of town for Tahoe the next day, we also had to go to Costco (the Wedding Plan requires us fulfill a list of a crap load of items for a Wedding BBQ, no please, no thank you; also to a liquor store for cases of stuff, ditto) and it was twice the size of the Costco here on Long Island, and in the pet food section they sold huge bags of Chicken feed and Horse food.

9. Drove up into the Sierra Nevada foothills and watched the sun set over the Truckee Meadows Valley:

10. Dinner at local Mexican food institution, Miguel’s.

Miguel’s was northern Nevada’s first Mexican restaurant (opened in 1959) and the owner, Miguel Ribera, became so beloved for his excellent food and for the scholarships he offered to hispanic youth that there is a resource center and a public park named after him. This restaurant must have been opened when I lived in town but I never dined here before.

11. Returned to hotel, played Texas Hold ’em until 2am.

The only thing that I want to tell you about Tahoe is that on our last day there, Top Cat and I drove out to Sierraville to escape the snow . . .

. . . and to find the Clothing Optional hot springs hippie resort there. Clothing Optional is OK for Top Cat but neither of us wanted to spend the hours it would take to negotiate how much it would cost him to pay me to skinny dip, so I found a nice sofa in the waiting area . . .

. . . where the whole time I stroked and cooed over this fella he did not open his eyes once . . .

Shot with DXO ONE Camera

. . . until he stretched, and moseyed outdoors to patrol the perimeter:

Still not giving me the time go day.

I’m a cat person so of course I think he’s irresistible.

I’m not going into detail but when I got back to the Isle of Long my agent and I had a lovely discussion about books, such as one that I might have recently completed, and now I have to write a new bio and stand by.

But for now I’m going to make like my Sierraville buddy here, and just head for the horizon.

Have a great weekend, everyone, and stay as far away from Lake Tahoe as you can. (Sorry, Lake Tahoe.)

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So it was a national holiday in the US of A last Monday: Memorial Day, the day when we Americans remember those who have died in our nation’s wars. It’s a solemn day.

So Ivanka Trump, who as you know has the same common touch and mind meld with “the people” as her piece of shit father, used this sad and mournful day to tweet:

Not to be outdone in our love for America, Top Cat and I purchased patriotic pastries:

This got me wondering, Do other people live this way? Like, in places where they don’t have a hair ball of puke for president?

Because thats a whole lot of red, white, and blue (see: above).

So, on this long Memorial [Three] Day holiday, Top Cat and I put in the annuals (ha! I know I got that right! ANNUALS!), which means the cats think they have a nifty new litter box (with floral accents) in the back yard:

Meanwhile, Bibs and Lickety were stalking something out back by the back property line:

Top Cat and I watched to make sure they didn’t bother the woodland creatures in the back yard. And we also kept an eye on the birds (the smart ones, that is) as they picked out the delicious peanuts from the bird chow we put out:

Ands then we watched the other birds (the dumb ones) look confused when there were no leftovers:

And then Top Cat and I got into a fight.

I should say,  Top Cat and I do not fight much.

We have the usual conflicts of any people who spend a great deal of time together: the little misunderstandings, minor differences of opinion, momentary mis-communications — all which are settled and explained and apologized for in a matter of minutes with calm tones of voice. No, really. We are reasonable people, and our domestic life would make for very boring reality TV.

Our last big fight was three years and five months ago. And it was HUGE. It was the biggest fight we’re ever had.

And now Top Cat wants to re-visit the same issues in that huge fight of yore by asking me for a favor which would require me to “be the bigger person” and let the things of the past be bygones.

Which is really funny, because he knows that I am never ” the bigger person”, not when there is too much to be gained by being the smaller person. For example, never having to stuff hard feelings and rage and bitterness into that place in your soul that eats you alive from the inside out: Small people never have to forgive (which everyone knows is very, very difficult, almost impossibly superhuman, right?) — they are the ones always being forgiven. I’m way into being teeny tiny like that.

Letting the things of the past be bygones only works if you have a terrible memory and, Dear Readers, not only do I have excellent recollection, but I also take notes. Hello? Remember me, the diarist? The one who writes memoir? Where do you think I get my material???

If you want to know exactly what was said by whom on which date, I’m your girl: I have it all in writing. It keeps things fresh so that what happened, say, three years and five months ago, are as if it were just yesterday.

At one point in the increasingly heated conversation Top Cat angrily announced: You never do anything you don’t want to do. Thing is, he said it like that was a bad thing.

Well, as far as I know, nobody gets extra days being 29, or a lifetime immunization from heartbreak, or a reincarnated pet by doing things they don’t want to do. So yes, of course, in my life and in my marriage, I have tried to do as few things that I don’t want to do as possible: I have stayed away from a few weddings and bar mitzvahs, family reunions and dinners out with bores. But there are times when I have indeed shown up, which would be unkind for me to list here, but anyway on this particular point you can’t make me feel guilty because sheesh: life is short and I’m getting old and Woody Robinson (the best cat in the world) is never coming back so you better believe that more and more, I will be spending less and less time doing things that I don’t want to do.

So as Top Cat and I still simmer over this fight, I can’t help but think how I, had I been in the position to ask of Top Cat a huge favor equal to the one he is asking of me, would have gone about it completely differently.

First, I would have taken me out for Mexican food. Because I do loves me a good enchilada.

I would also order me a huge margarita. Because, duh.

Next, I would have told me how much happiness I have brought to his life, how much I mean to him, and how very dearly he respects my feelings. I would be sure to use the word “precious” somewhere in there. “Angelic” wouldn’t be amiss, either.

I, naturally, would by now be filled with feelings not unlike giant fluffy pink clouds and warm rainbow-colored sunbeams.

THEN I would break the bad news about having this HUGE favor to ask, one that he knows is going to ask a lot of me, a very small person, one that he knows I am not likely to be the least inclined to give. I would ask the favor, and quickly tell me that he understands that I need time to think about it, and not expect me to jump at the chance to let bygones be bygones.

Then I would back off. Because I would be smart enough to know that there would be blow-back re: this favor of “letting bygones be bygones” because, duh, we’ve been married for 13 years and he knows that I am the least “letting bygones be bygones” kind of person in this relationship.

The next day is when I would bring up the topic again, asking for this huge favor again, only this time I would do it while we were at North Shore Animal Shelter picking out our new DoG.

And that, Dear Readers, is how you ask your wife (if your wive happens to be me) for a huge favor.

Right?

Have a great weekend, everybody. I hope that nobody asks you to do something that you don’t want to do, but if they do, I hope they ask the right way.

 

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I might as well live on the North Slope. Or Ultima Thule. Or Westeros. It’s cold here on Long Island and Yours Truly is not one bit pleased, not one little bit. Today is the sixth day in a row of rain:

You can’t see it, but those watery icicles on the edge of the table are dripping as if the cruel goddess of Crappy Springs is dumping an infinite ice bucket of Liquid Depression from on high. I’m not into this at all.

And it’s so cold that Steve is back to spending his days in his Winter nest half-way under the bush/all the way under the eaves by the front porch:

Here’s a close up because I know you want more of Steve-o:

I had to put my electric blankie back on the bed. I’ve had to don the dreaded Winter fleece once again. And I’ve been eyeing the vodka almost non-stop since 11 AM.

I would love to complain all day but we have a blog to do. So let us get to the topic of the day: Obituaries and How To Write Them and then we can declare it Happy Hour.

Let us start this without backstory (for now) so you can read this obit clean, like. Let’s pretend that you are opening your October 8, 2014 New York Times newspaper to the obits pages:

 

There’s only one photo in the paid portion of the obits, and it draws your attention immediately. You read:

Yes, that’s the obit I wrote (except for the bit “in acceptance of the inevitable” in the first first sentence and the entire last sentence, which were written by my sister Buffy, who also edited the obit for length). Rolly didn’t have children, so that’s why I was tasked with giving the last word about the family’s favorite relative.

As you can read, I did not use Rolly’s obit as an excuse for every related schmo’s to get their name in print. I object to having to read lists of names of survivors in an obit, particularly the grandchildren (the boring Caitlyns, Kaylas, Taylors, Tylers, Madisons etc), who should earn their place in the New York Times by dying, same as everyone else. I wrote this obit to be all about Rolly, not about is survivors.

Re-reading this for the first time in two and a half years I can spot some clunky writing that I would love to edit (adding one transition and cutting out two adjectives) but for the most part, I’m happy with it.

P.S. This obit cost about $5,000. The Times is not cheap.

Here is what I believe when it comes to writing obits:

1. I believe that obits should give a reader a lively biographical account of the dead person’s personality and values. The best way to make that kind information entertaining is by telling stories, which means putting the relevant bio details in context rather then merely listing dates and accomplishments.

Listing of dates and boring facts should be kept to a minimum — does the world really need to know the exact date of one’s college graduation? Or marriage? Really? (Sorry, Deborah, and all future genealogists; obit writing is an art and you can’t make art out of public records.) Too many dates allows down the pace and retards the fun factor of an obit, makes it too much like homework.

2. Avoid being predictable. In obituaries, everybody who gets out of the house is a “world traveler”. Everyone who ever laughed at their own jokes had “wit”. Every over-eater had “gourmet tastes”. Every Tom/Dick/Henrietta will be “sorely missed”. Anybody who had kids was “devoted to family”. Every kid that dies young had a “smile that lights up a room”.

3. Never list adjectives in lieu of real sentences — to quote an obit on the same page of the NYT as Rolly: “A woman of great warmth, optimism, humor, and beauty, [the dead lady] always saw the best in others and brightened up the lives of family and friends.” Having read that sentence, aren’t you left with the message that this lady didn’t make much of an individualistic impression on those around her? She is described only in relation to others, no mention of what she did to actualize her own self, who she was in her own right — we’ll never know.

3A. If you must list adjectives because the New York Time’s ain’t cheap and you’re on a budget, pick interesting ones. Pick adjectives that describe the dead person’s individuality, not their qualifications for sainthood.

P.S. Ever notice how women are never described as “smart”? Could it be because being smart doesn’t bear on her serviceableness to her family? No, they only care that she was warm, would laugh at your lame ass jokes, and was pretty. Families suck the life out of their women, don’t they?

4. Never, ever, use the word grace. Another quote from another obit: “An artist and teacher of exceptional talent, heart, generosity, and grace.” Let’s never mind the listing of adjectives — let’s figure out “grace”. It’s a word that sounds a lot as if it means something, but what does it mean??? Does it mean she had good manners? Does it mean that she lent people money happily? Could it mean that she kept a vase of flowers in her desk? Does it mean that she only cursed in French? Or could it mean that she could actually disappear into the astral plane and do housework for the less fortunate? We’ll never know because we don’t know what “grace” specifically pertains to, so it’s a word that doesn’t mean anything.

 

Now, about Rolly’s obit: I knew Rolly for 40+ years, and I knew what stories he re-told and those were the ones (and characters) he wold want included re: mom’s bacon sandwiches and his uncle the Atlantic City bookie. I also knew that walking across the Brooklyn Bridge at age 86  fulfilled a life-time dream of his, and in fact the photo we used the top of his obit (and it costs extra) was one I took of Rolly ON the Brooklyn Bridge:

Uncle Rolly with my brother Jimmy on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Old friends and business associates of Rolly’s called me up to say how much they really liked the obit I wrote, so I can happily say that the obit portrayed Rolly very much in the way that those who knew him longest and best knew him.  His ad agency, in its official press release of Rolly’s passing, used bits if this obit so, yeah, if you’re plagiarized you’re doing something right.

The one thing I left out was the fact that Rolly was a widower. Rolly truly loved his wife, Naomi, and maybe he would have wanted her mentioned but I didn’t put her in the obit because her two kids (Rolly’s step children who he helped raise and financially support well into adulthood) had, by unanimous family opinion, been real shits during the later years of Rolly’s life and I wanted to spite them, wipe them completely out of the record. And truthfully, Naomi was kind of bitchy. So, yeah, we survivors have the final word so if you don’t want that to happen, WRITE YOUR OWN OBIT!!

You know the most famous obituary story,don’t you? About the rich businessman who was mistakenly obitted (yeah, I made that up, and isn’t it brilliant???) and he, reading this premature obit, realized that he didn’t want to be remembered for having the world’s biggest dynamite factory so he funded philanthropic awards in his name and that’s how Alfred Nobel is now mostly known for his Prize. So maybe writing your own obit will reveal a life’s mission, or not. You never know.

My last belief about writing obits is that you shouldn’t do it on a rainy day (too dispiriting, and suicide notes never count) so I won’t be writing my Last Word today. Or tomorrow, from what I hear on the forecast, even though I am close to being bored to death with this crappy RAIN. (Note to self: Obit should mention She did not like rainy days.)

If you are going to Comment below — and I desperately hope you do — please include the one adjective that you’d most like to have in your obit.

I am sending out my biggest hopes to all you Dear Readers that, wherever you are this weekend, you are neither soggy nor shivering. I wish you the warmth of love and the comfort of soft blankies which I hope are made of warm breezes and starry rays of light. And most of all, I hope you feel especially alive.

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I want to smooch this face!

Thank you, Dear Reader Alexandra from Seattle, for sending me this pic of Truman, the long-haired dachshund/part cat, on his browse through the University of Washington’s University Book Store. Truman does not like to be parted from his beloved couch, which is in the living room of the house he never wants to leave, and he absolutely refuses to put mileage on his own little feets, so he must be strolled in his special Truman-mobile when it’s time for the dreaded “fresh air” outing. On this day, Truman had his human stroller him to UDub (Go Huskies) for some meaningful shopping at the city’s favorite book store, which no doubt included a stop at the book store cafe for some meaningful coffee, which is totally a thing.

The GoAaF is a staff pick!

I have had a most excellent week here in VivianWorld, starting with getting pics of a long haired dachshund giving the GoAaF his best Look of Awe, and continuing with me coming across a New York Times article about the celebrated chef and restaurateur Wylie Desfrene, one of those Day In The Life Of things.

Wylie Desfrene, celebrated chef and restaurateur, was quoted by the reporter from the New York Times as being the kind person who tries to have at least “two meaningful coffee experiences a day”.

Please note: There is no “N” in restaurateur — he’s a restorer of the human spirit via food, not a restaurant-er, which is the history of the word “restaurant”, BTW, which only gets its “N” because it was one of those gerund or participle things before it became a noun. You’re welcome.

We’re here to erudite you, whether you want it or not.

After reading that NYT article, I spent the day feeling bad that I’ve never required daily meaningfulness from my hot beverage because I’m such a pathetically shallow and dim-witted person. I’m too stupid to drink meaningfully because, basically, I’m dead inside, just like every other ordinary, negligible person who lives and dies in utter anonymity. I was feeling very bad about being just me.

And then I thought, Whoa. Telling a New York Times reporter that you seek two meaningful coffee experiences a day is exactly what you should tell a New York Times reporter, whether or not you have any earthly idea of what a meaningful coffee experience is because, truthfully, no one does. But it sounds pretty damn deep. Makes you go, HuhWylie Desfrene is a genius!

So, New York Times, if you’re reading this, I not just your average travel memoirist! I’m a dream cartographer, a cataloger of whimsies. I also like to go on long car rides with enlightening red beans and rice.

True story: I went to two funerals last week and, driving home on I-95 from the one in Washington D.C., Top Cat and I pulled over in Delaware (I was starving and desperate) and got a Popeye’s red beans and rice. Now, you know that I consider myself a connoisseur of red beans and rice, and that it’s my go-to entree when I am in New Orleans, where I’ve shoveled it in tasted it in its high and low iterations (that is, in various restaurants with, and without, starched white cloth napkins) . . . and Popeye’s red beans and rice IS AWESOME.

I am, right now, promising myself to take myself to Popeye’s as soon as I finish blogging.

P.S. Just got back from Popeye’s. I got the large side for $3.99 and it was deliriously good. Oh man, I am stuffed to the gills. Now, back to the blog:

Going to two funerals in one week gives you a lot to thing about. The main take-away for me is, I must write my own obit (I already have my cause of death picked out). If you want to see just how bad an amateur obit can be, read the paid-for obits in the NYT. Those things aren’t cheap, and they stink.

Fun fact: When my dear uncle Rolly died two years ago I wrote his obit that was published in the paid-for section of New York Times which a total stranger re-published on his blog because, he wrote, it sounded like Rolly was a guy he would have liked to have known — and that’s what an obit should do. If you, Dear Readers, clamor to know more about my obituary-writing experience and my snot-nosed Helpful Hints for Writing an Obituary That Doesn’t Stink, I will be happy to go into it in detail in a future blog.

Funerals, Popeye’s, food for thought, dachshunds — so many favorite things, could the week get any better???

Oh, yes, it can, and it did:

Finally, at long last, on May 16, 2017, I got to turn off my electric blankie. Finally, at long last, Spring dragged its hoary butt into what the TV people call “Seasonal Temperatures”. Lickety (above) likes going outside about as much as certain long haired dachshunds but there he was, sprawling on the patio like he’s just drunken half a dozen un-meaningful margaritas. That’s it! Your first 80-degree day of the year is intoxicating! Heat — glorious sun-baked warmth, star-sent lightness of being, dazzling brightness of skin-kissing light — heat makes you a sluggish, simple-minded, drunk! Wait. Is that what explains Florida?

All that, and der Drumpf’s getting his ass handed to him on an FBI platter made this one of the best damn weeks of my life.

Russian Imperial Porcelain

Russian Imperial Porcelain. It’s an FBI platter made of Russian Imperial Porcelain. Get it?

Thank You, venerable laws of karma;

Thank You, ye olde petards of irresistible hoist;

Thank You, sweet delicious Told You So’s.

For the first time since November 9th 2016, I can’t get enough of the news. Every breaking story out of Washington D. C. fills me with hope and joy, and an urge to dance my face off. Happy, happy, happy days are here again.

Before I go, I want to give you something in appreciation of all you Dear Readers. Last week I put up some watercolors of irises, and judging by the comments there are a number of Dear Readers who are going to be doing some iris painting of their own. So, for those of you who could use some itty bitty help in that department, I’m giving you my iris drawings:

You can see that I made changes on this second pic after I’d done the drawing; and I’d originally drawn it facing the other way so I flipped the image (turned over the tracing paper to use it on the back side) before I pencilled it onto the watercolor stock.

Have a great weekend, all you Wonder Ones, and may all your dancing be in hope in joy.

 

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I discovered Irises last week.

I mean, I discovered that I like painting them.

Monet’s irises

The best thing about painting irises is that they are the perfect flowers to go crazy with the bleeds with:

They look good blotchy!

I was not at all sure that I could pull this off, so I didn’t take step-by-step photos.

So that’s the art part of the blog today. Now for a

Change of subject.

How many times has this happened to you: You’re putting down some New York Times newspaper linings in your cat litter boxes and just as you’re about to pat a few pages down into Fluffy’s rest room apparatus, you realize you’re looking at the obituary of a guy you dated in the mid 1980s.

Richard Sandomir, one of the N Y Times’ staff columnists, wrote it; meaning that the editors of the NY Times decided that this guy’s death was of “historical importance”. In 1985 I was aware that this guy (a classical musician) was somewhat famous when he gave me some of his records and began to escort me to his concerts at Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center in D.C., but I hadn’t thought of him in ages — not since that afternoon at the Watergate when he let it slip that he was still married. I never saw him or heard of him again after I dumped him then and there, until, that is, I read his obit in the N Y Times.

Remember how easy it was in the olden days to date, by accident, a married guy? In those days before everybody was Google-able? This musician was my first lying married guy, but not my last. O Lordy, I am so happy that I don’t have to date any more.

I’m so glad that I’m not still trying out personalities like I was when I was dating this musician, when I was still young and wishy-washy enough to think that I could be the kind of person who marries a classical musician even though I have absolutely no interest in, or love for, classical music. (After this classical music guy, there was a jazz guy that I actually got engaged to, and I really REALLY can’t stand jazz.)

I’m so glad to be old and set in my ways (fun-loving, optimistic, non-judgemental, with a love for humankind that makes me basically another Mother Theresa). And I love 1980s pop music. I like tunes that make me feel like walking on sunshine.

This is a short blog post today because I added extra reading to last week’s post — it’s in the Comments section, and elaborates on my handwriting analysis judgements. I claimed that somebody had the handwriting of a pervert, and I meant it, but in the nicest way, of course.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Be true to yourselves and the music that makes you dance.

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I will explain this photo in a bit. (Yes, I am completely sober, for the moment.) First, we have some PAINTING to do!

To re-cap: This is the view of Claude Monet’s famous lily pond in his Water Garden in Giverny, France that our Dear Reader Jeanie photographed one fine September day:

Those red plants blooming in the foreground look to me to be some kind of celosia, which gives this away as a Fall scene. Yes, I am extremely proud of myself for knowing that celosia blooms in the early Autumn. Even more than that, I’m amazed that I even know what celosia are — but that’s what writing a garden book will do: it will turn a person who basically couldn’t give a crap about horticulture into someone who notices, and NAMES,  celosia in the foreground. So,  La-Di-Da for me!***

***see Comments below for my come-uppance.

Thank you, Jeanie, for letting me paint your view (we’re calling this The Jeanie Challenge), which after two weeks of blogging looks like this so far:

For Jeanie and all others who are painting along with moi, I want you all to rest assured that even if you follow me stroke by stroke, you will never be “copying” me. It’s like when we all learned how to write cursive (which I hear is something that nobody bothers to teach any more).

We were all shown the same standard forms, we all practiced copying the forms, but in the end our handwriting is uniquely ours:

BTW, from what I know about handwriting analysis, this is the writing of a pervert.

It’s the exact same thing with watercolor. Even if you use every single technique I use for this pic, your painting will be you, all you, as surely as your own handwriting is. SPEAKING of handwriting, handwriting is kind of how I solved the problem of what to do with the big blank right hand side of this picture:

I want to do something different for that big bank spot there, treat it in a way that will make it stand out against the background stuff that I’ve already painted. I thought about this problem a lot, and in the end I decided to draw it:

In that I use the same tool as I would if I’d handwritten this, that’s where the HANDWRITING connection comes in. Nice segue, eh?

As I sussed it, there are three distinct textures in that foreground bit. From top to bottom: long spikey stuff, big leafy stuff, and small grassy stuff, which I drew as you can see below:

So all I’m going to do here is paint those textures.

First, the grassy stuff, just a wash of light green with some dark green strokes:

Then the long spikes stuff — I really love doing this kind of brush stroke, but if you’re new to it, it pays to practice it before you put in down on your painting. It is actually harder than it looks to get that nice, elongated lozenge shape:

For the leafy texture in the middle, I’m going to smoosh my paint brush into my dark-green green . . .

. . . and then smoosh it into my light-green green:

And then I’m going to dab in some leafs (it’s a press and twist motion):

That’s what I call PAiNTiNG, people.

Stepping back to survey the work, I think the leafs look a little too same-y as the spikey stuff here:

So I’m going to use clear water on my brush to smudge the paint a bit:

That’s better:

Now it’s time to do those celosia plants in the foreground. They are a bizarre shade of red, so I’m going to mix a hot pink (Permanent Rose) with a deep, blood-red red (Red Purple, which cost $16.95 for this teeny little tube! But that’s what you have to pay to get a really good, rich, red.):

I experimented with the mix to see if I could match the color of Jeanie’s View, and I also had to practice painting these shapes, which are a bit weird:

I also wanted to see how the hot ink/purple red mix looked when it was painted over the green and blues that are already on the paper:

Thankfully, the pigment held its own. The hard part, as always, is to avoid making a pattern, to keep them looking as random as nature:

Note that I painted the celosia in light and dark shades of my hot pink/red purple mix.

Now that all the hard stuff is done, we can step back and congratulate ourselves for getting this far without ruining the pic. Yay for us!

And now for the fun bit:

You might know this, or not, but all the structures in Monet’s garden — the plant supports that give his flower garden its height, the shutters on his house, all the outdoor furniture, and all the bridges in his Water Garden — are painted the same rich, saturated green. It’s a very distinctive color, variously called “Apple Green” and “Monet Green”.

To make this green stand out against all the other greens in Monet’s garden, I use an acrylic paint:

Since it is plastic, opaque, and thick, the acrylic paint has a totally different property than the watercolor, so it stands out even when I use it in a teeny tiny background detail :

I am editing out all the other people in Jeanie’s original photograph and I’m only painting two people on the bridge:

They are basically stick figures — but be sure to shade them and to give them some sort of gesture; I have one of my figures turing to the other one, to whisper sweet words: You were so right. Being here does take my mind off the fact that we have a low-class, smug, shit-for-brains president back home.

The last thing I have to do (as a painter of this scene) is tone down the “roses” in that weird arcade, which I do by painting over them in dark green:

Are we DONE?

Nope.

I happen to like the way the colors and shapes of this composition pulls the eye all around this little pic. But, even so, that light background behind the bridge bothers me. Jeanie’s photograph is so wonderful because of the way she framed those figures on the bridge — although they are way back in the background, they are pushed forward (in the photo) because of the dramatic way they are seen against very, very dark foliage. I feel compelled to be honest to the view, and so I think I need to paint that in:

DONE.

Well done. You’ve earned it: time to unscrew the lid off of your finest Pinto Grigio:

This is how we do it on the Long Island Rail Road.

It was cold and gray last Sunday as I waited for the 5:22 to Ronkonkoma (change at Jamaica for the Oyster Bay local). Penn Station was crowded and I’d spent all day out and about in Manhattan, wishing I’d worn a Winter coat instead of the short leather jacket I’d put on that morning in trust that the forecast of 62 degrees was not just someone’s fantasy that our long, long, long delayed Spring had finally arrived. I was chilled to the bone and I’d been crying earlier in the afternoon:

Spoiler: This movie is a good old fashioned treat jerker.

The grungier food stalls at Penn Station sell teeny bottles of wine for $5 each, but they can not let you take those bottles away with you. Probably because Madison Square Garden is right above the LIRR train tracks and nobody wants arm a bunch of pissed off  (or celebrating, it doesn’t matter) Knicks and Rangers fans with both alcohol and a sturdy glass projectile. So what they do is, they kindly pour your one, two, or three bottles of wine into a huge Coke go-cup, ask if you also want ice, snap a lid on it, and punch it with a straw.

It’s the Long Island commuter’s security blanket.

So I had a very happy journey home that cold and gray Sunday. Because it was the weekend, the train was full and the riders were much more voluble than the usual Mon-Fri crowd, which was very entertaining for me. Also, I was kind of drunk.

Overheard on the 5:22 to Ronkonkoma:

As passengers are walking down the aisle, finding seats:

I’m sick of the city.

You’re a meat person, right?

Leave the car where it’s parked, we’re never going to use it again.

And when we go to Dubai I’m gonna take you to Amsterdam for the weekend.

From seated passengers:

One 20-something girl to her friend, who is unwrapping an extra large chocolate bar: That’s, like, a thousand calories. Her friend: I can deal with it. 

Behind me, another 20-something girl starts to squeal to her friend (and I swear, this is exactly how the conversation went): What IS that? It’s on your bag! Give me five dollars so I can chew it! Other girl responds: How do you Google that?

Guy on his cell phone: Are we going to spend shabbat in LA? I hope not.

Older man to his wife: They can wear it for all I care, but I don’t have to look at it. Wife: They do things to their bodies to look that thin.

Random stuff that drifted through the general noise:

When we were kids I loved going out and doing stuff but now I’m a 22-year old guy and I like stay in and drink.

Fish and chips. With risotto.

Maine. I never think of Maine. Maine is the most boring state in the union. (I have to agree with that one.)

I liked the part where they went back in time. Did they have dinner? 

I was thinking, as I listened and took notes, that the LIRR is a goldmine of awesome non-sequiturs! I should write a book about the overheard conversations on the LIRR! I bet the LIRR would PAY me to be, like, their scribe! Like, their resident anthropologist! People would love this stuff! I should put it all in a book! Best seller! I should pitch this to the president of the MTA [Metropolitan Transportation Authority]! The MTA would jump at the chance! 

Like I said, I was a bit pie-eyed. A mere two sheets to the wind. Slightly hammered. Definitely lit.

 This project is now filed away with all my many, many, many other Bad Ideas.

Have a great weekend, my Dear Readers. I hope that all your wine is fine, all your ideas are good, and that all your bad ideas are only momentary.

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This is the most interesting thing I’ve learned from the results of Round One of the French presidential election:

The front-runner, Emmanuel Macron, is a 39-year old Sagittarian with Capricorn rising. Interesting, non?

And oh, yeah, his wife is 24 years older than he is.

They’ve been married for ten years but met ages before, when he was a 17-year old high school student and she was one of his teachers. In the French newspaper that I read, their relationship is described as being a union of intellectual soul mates. Interesting, non?

I’m thinking of taking this photo to my hair dresser to get a blonde dye job just like Brigitte’s. She looks amazing.

In other news of the week, Robert Pirsig died. In my early 20s I tried to read this book back when it was still a hot item in the zeitgeist. I got half way through it and could not bear to hear one more paragraph of that author’s “voice” –which is the same voice as in The Bridges of Madison County, BTW, another story told by a manly narrator who is a thinly disguised version of the author’s own conviction of his ethical and moral superiority. Rambling’ men, both of them, too cool to be held accountable by “society”.

That said, I do think that Mr. Pirsig came up with an absolutely brilliant title for his book. It really swings, and that’s no mean feat. I’m sure it helped sell his book by the boatload, and that’s no mean feat either. It’s funny, these books that the culture latches onto at any given moment; it means that millions of people who don’t read books become, suddenly and unpredictably, motivated to read one, and that’s just good luck, or good timing, or magic because it obviously isn’t quality. 

But now we are getting into something that I can get a little too obsessed about, and lord knows I can get snide when it comes to authors who buy villas in the south of France from selling boat loads of dreck, so let’s get back to the regularly scheduled programming for this blog.

If you remember, we’re painting this view of Monet’s lily pond in his Water Garden on his property in  Giverny, France:

And this was the sketch I made of this view, using only these few guide lines to orient me:

Last week I painted the top third of the view:

And this week I’m going to start painting the bottom two-thirds:

For me, it’s necessary to start by using masking fluid to block out bits of foreground foliage (see below) . . .

. . .and all the lily pads that float on the surface of the pond:

The reasons I use a toothpick to apply making fluid is because, for One: I work on a small scale, so a toothpick doles out the proper amount of fluid for my purposes; and TWO: toothpicks are disposable, which saves me the bother of clean up. You can see (below) that the pattern of my lily pad/masking fluid resembles random splotches:

When the masking fluid is thoroughly dry, I load up the area with clear water:

I can’t emphasize the importance of using clean clean CLEAN water! I change my jars of water frequently — I use two at a time: one for cleaning off the blue and green paints, the other for cleaning off the yellow and reds. And I never let the water get the tiniest bit murky. As son as I detect the slightest hint of cloudiness in my water jars, I dump them. Clean water is the secret to making your paint sparkle.

Any hoo, getting back to the painting: I’m putting a wash of light green on the “top” of the pond (the bit near the shoreline):

And then, quickly, I’m putting a bright blue wash at the “bottom” of the pond:

I work the blue wash up towards the middle, where it meets the green wash — don’t use too may brush strokes here, or else you’ll end up with mud; just let the water do the work:

While the entire surface is still wet, I dab in some darker green:

And I pat in a drop or two of green around the edges of the lily pads (for s kind of shadow, to give depth):

Ooooh — I really like the way the green wash is pooling!:

Although I sometimes I use a hair dryer to speed things up, in general I spend a lot of time waiting for paint to dry. I never use a hair dryer on washes! It’s best to let washes dry naturally — in my experience, the air does very interesting stuff to paint and water. In the case of this wash that I did for the pond here, I knew it was going to take several minutes (up to 15) to dry so I left the room to make a cup of tea, and when I came back I discovered that the pool of water did not do what I expected it to do:

OK, that’s not what I was counting on, but I do love it when watercolor does what watercolor wants to do, so I’ll make the best of it. Here’s how the wash dried in the rest of the pond:

I really like blotchy watercolor. And now that this wash is bone dry I can paint in a very light “reflection” of the Willow Tree:

If you refer to the reference photo . . .

. . . you’ll see that there is an inconvenient pile of weeds sticking out of the surface of the pond (to the right). I’d rather not have to paint that but, oh well; let’s start with a light green base, and while it’s still damp I will stroke in some very dark green:

With that done, I’ll attack the dark green foliage by painting over the masking fluid:

Then we let everything dry:

And then I pick up the masking fluid with a special wad of rubber that I only use for this purpose. Don’t use an eraser — it will peel too much of the paper away — try something gummy, and soft:

Painting lily pads is hard. I think I used 10 different tones of blue-green, green, yellow-green, and green-blue:

For the lilies I’m using a dab of white acrylic paint as my base:

While that acrylic paint is damp, Ill drop in some hot pink:

And voila: We have achieved pondage!

Now I have a big problem. See that big blank area? I have to do something interesting here. I have to do something there that will make it *POP*, but not too much POP so that it over-takes the rest of the pic. I can’t do what I’ve already done so far (the green blobs in the background) — that would make the whole pic too samey and b-o-r-i-n-g. This bit of foreground is on a different scale than the rest of the pic, so I’ll need to do something new and different. Bold. Whatever that is.

Here is where I actually put the pic aside for a day, because I really had not thought out, beforehand, how I was going to tackle this section. I think I’m very lucky to have gotten this far without crapping things up!

So let’s use this as a stopping point for now. Next week we will paint that foreground, and hope it works, and muse on other hot topics of the week.

BTW, Robert Pirsig didn’t use his millions of dollars in royalties to buy a villa in the South of France. He bought a sail boat and a house in Maine. The author of The Bridges of Madison County bought a ranch in the middle of Texas. E L James (Fifty Shades of Gray) has houses in LA and Cornwall. CORNWALL. So, not only are their books bad, but so is their taste in real estate.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers.

 

 

 

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Writers are famous for being very particular about their working conditions. Some writers need background noise (so they hang out at Starbuck’s) and some need absolute quiet (Proust had his room sound-proofed). Some can only write in the very early hours of the day (Hemingway) and some can write at any hour but it has to be in a room with totally bare walls (Maya Angelou). But you don’t hear much about the work habits of painters — except for Monet, who was famous for being able to paint only 10 minutes a day (sometimes), in order to catch a certain kind of sun light in the plein air.

I don’t paint plein air (that means: outside) but I still need a specific kind of natural light to do my stuff. My prime time for painting is in the late morning until the middle afternoon, but no later than 4 o’clock. Judge Judy comes on at 4 o’clock.  I credit all my legal knowledge to watching Judge Judy — the one time I was sued in small claims court I got the case thrown out in 5 minutes. I love confrontation, and I love outsmarting people, and I will NEVER settle! Man-o-man, I would have made a killer litigator.

But, alas, I am an illustrator, so let us take a look at today’s illustrating challenge, which comes from one of our favorite Dear Readers.

Dear Reader Jeanie took this beautiful photo when she was in France, on her visit to the lily pond in Monet’s Water Garden in Giverny. Did you know that the Water Garden has SIX bridges in total? This is a pic of the bridge at the farthest eastern edge of the pond:

I can see why Jeanie has been hankering to paint this scene: the reflections on that pond are soooo cool, with the Willow tree greenery in the distance and that brilliant blue sky in the foreground. YUM. Also, you get the view of two (out of Monet’s three) famous Willow trees in the background with that sweet little bride in the center. The pic also has a fetching balance of dark bits in the foliage, with all kinds of textures going on everywhere you look. It’s a wonderful photograph, compositionally and subject-wise.

But as for painting it, it’s going to be a bugger. The main problem is all those background trees:

There’s a whole lot of the identical tint/tone/shade of green lurking in all that green greenery back there. It will be tricky to paint it without ending up with one big puddle of verdure. So after a great deal of study (5 minutes or so) I have mapped out this greenery in my mind and have decided that I’m going to paint it (going left to right) as: Background greens, Peripheral greens, Little Willow, General Fluffiness, Big Willow. Most importantly, I have also mapped out the order in which I will paint them, which you will see shortly.

So let’s get to it!

Here is the sum total of my equipment:

Here are the guide-lines I will use for the painting of this scene, which we will call Jeanie’s View:

SPOILER ALERT: I am going to be showing the painting of Jeanie’s View in detail today so I can talk about the many decisions I make as I paint this complicated scene, so expect to see lots of pics that look pretty much like this one (below) in which I am making a wash of sky:

I let this wash dry, and then I dab in some very light and watery background foliage by using a blue-green wash (I chose the color deliberately to add some variety to the overall greenery of this scene) and just patting my paintbrush against the “sky”:

While the blue-green wash is still wet-ish, I will work quickly to dab in some peripheral trees, using a bright green-yellow:

Still working wet-in-wet, I pat in some darker blue-green:

I let all that dry before I dab in some more blue-green-ish stuff:

I chose to use blue-green here only to make a distinction between the trees that are minor characters in this view and the trees that will be the major characters. The most important trees in this view are the Willows, so I will paint them last — which is why I am skipping over to the center of the view now, where all the non-Willow fluffiness is. I put in a nice light yellow wash first:

And then I pat in some light green:

As the wash gets more and more dry, I pat in more dabs of green, which will “hold” as distinct shapes of foliage:

I am still taking advantage of the dampness of the background wash to pat in some medium greens:

The wash is almost completely dry now, so I’m going to get bold and go for some dark green (it’s Hunter green mixed with just a touch of black) that will really “hold” well:

It was at this point that I started to believe that I had something here. I wasn’t sure at all about the fate of this pic in the beginning…I made the background kind go bland on purpose, in order to not overwhelm the pic with too much detail, but I could not tell if it would work or not until I got here, and did not screw up the bleeds I needed here. I can see that I painted a big round puff ball, which I’m not happy about, but I can fix that; what I can’t fix is a bad bleed. These little bleeds look OK. Whew.

While I paint, I constantly refer back to Jeanie’s photograph, to make sure that I’m dabbing in those darks and lights in approx. the right places. I decided to paint that big area of fluffiness in two parts, exactly because I knew that I wanted to use a wet wash while it slowly dried up, and you (meaning: me) can only do that in small bits. So when I start the second part of that area of fluffiness, I start with a darker wash of pale green-blue instead of yellow)

I dab in yellow and then my dark green to merge into the dark green I had previously done:

Add medium green and let dry:

Compare to reference photo to check for placement of the dark spot:

It looks OK to me.

Since I am a miniaturist at heart, I have a tendency to over-do the details when I paint “large”, and luckily I have stopped myself at a good point with this fluffy background. Time to paint the Little Willow, which as you can see from the ref photo above, has a “dark” and a “light” side — so I am putting down two washes side-by-side:

I wanted to add some dark green to the darker wash, but I put in too much:

This could have ruined it all, but thankfully the paint was still wet and all I had to do was “pick it up” — go over it with a very clean brush to remove the unnecessary paint and SAVE THE DAY:

Now that the wash is dry, I am putting in some fine lines in various shades of light and dark green to simulate the Willow fonds:

I add some darkness to the foliage on either side of the Willow in order to make this main-character tree “pop”:

Lastly, it’s time to do the Big Willow:

Ooooh — nice bleed of dark and light green wash (below)!

Here’s how I paint fronds with both my big (No. 1) brush and my teeny (No. 00) one . . .

Don’t worry — we are NOT painting the entire pic today; I have just a few more bits to show you before we call it a day (we’ll finish the pic next week, when we do the WATER!!).

But here is where we are so far:

For now, I am leaving the tree-line unresolved like this. I know that according to my reference photo of Jeanie’s View, I am missing a big area of darkness between my Willows, but I also know that  if I don’t stop myself here I am afraid that I will add too much darkness and detail, and lose the brightness and spontaneity that I have so far. I will have to go back later and patch up some bits here and there, but it would be better for me and the pic if I wait to see what happens in the rest of the view before I make those adjustments.

All I’m going to do for the rest of this post is paint in the water-line at the bottom of those trees. Of course I will be using my favorite thing in the whole world — wet-in-wet bleeds:

And we are DONE for the day.

You might be wondering what those goofy pink arches on the right edge of Jeanie’s View are. Those are the rose arbors painted by Monet:

I think this is a very ugly painting. The shape of the arbors is very unappealing — boxy, inelegant, etc. The brush strokes look tentative (wimpy) and the colors manage to be both muddy and cartoonish. And if you don’t know the lay-out of his Water Garden, this painting doesn’t make much sense: is that pile of brownish-pink in the middle of a pool or what? Even his water lilies look like crap. See? Even Monet had bad days at the old easel.

It’s because of this painting that I dislike his lily pond rose arbors, and I tried to minimize the presence of these odious rose arbors in my pic but I obviously failed (see: my painting) — they poke out of the landscape like, well, like cartoonish rose-covered arbors. I will fix that later.

Speaking of Giverny, you all know that it is Election Day this Sunday in France, right? It’s a very tense election, with a four-way heat between the candidates from the far left, the middle left, the middle right, and the far right. If you remember my post from 2015, when I was in Giverny for their last elections for local representative, I got to witness  voting in Giverny and it was so cool — even back then, my Giverny friends assured me that Marine LePen’s party could not possible get votes in their neck of the woods… but she did, yes she did; and if you think that she couldn’t possibly win the Presidency in 2015 I have two words for you: Der Drumpf. . . who is still a fat ass shit-eating maggot. If you have a friend in France who isn’t a moron, keep your lines open. They might need to email you late in the night after the polls close, and you have to be available to coax them off the ledge.

Interesting Fact: The watercoloring that you watched me do today took me 1 hour and 50 minutes — almost TWO HOURS — of painting Jeanie’s View. At this point in my blog post, I’ve spent over three and a half hours writing and posting pix about what it took me two hours to paint. I’m starting to think that there is something wrong with this business model. (P.S. this blog took about six hours total to gather photos, lay out in WordPress, write, and revise.)

I actually painted for two more hours on Jeanie’s View and then I stopped (the pic is still not finished) but for your sake, I will stop here.  The reason I put the brushes down after four hours is because I know that I am not good for more than four hours of painting on any given day. So here’s a tip: Know your limits and respect them. Even if you are dying to finish your pic, even if you are sooooooo close to wrapping it all up, even if you’re afraid that the Muse won’t be there the next time you open your paintbox: Quit While You Are Ahead.

Hello, this is from Future Me: I have finished Jeanie’s View and there is a lot to tell you. . . but I have to clear it with my Dear Readers first. Was this blog post too detailed? Do you want to see more such nit-picky painting, or would you like me to edit the process to speed it up? Because here’s the thing: If I keep reporting the future painting of Jeanie’s View in the same manner as I did this week’s post, I will need TWO more installments. . .  next week, I’ll do the the lily pond, and two weeks from now I’ll do the bank of the pond and the bridge and all the little fixits the pic needs before it’s DONE. Please let me know how much info you want me to belabor in this space.  

BIG NEWS: Mr Fluffy, our wonderful stray kitty, has found his forever people, who drove six hours to come get him. The Fluffernutter has already staked out  his favorite nap spots in his new house and is lording over a young family who adore his every swish of tail and his every teeny tiny “Mew” that lets them know it’s kitty-loving time.

And no, I have not begun reading my penance novel that I owe Top Cat (see: last week’s post) because I am busy with the two treasure books that I brought home from New Orleans — stay tuned, Dear Reader Judy; I will discuss them next week, when we paint the rest of Jeanie’s View.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers. Happy Painting, wherever you are.

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Can you guess where I went last week?

For the record, this is my favorite outfit of my 62nd year: Michael Kors leggings and tasseled suede loafers, with a shirt from the Boys’ Dept. at Target. I’m also growing my hair out from the short-short cut I had last October, but I haven’t decided how long I want to let it go.

Oh, wait. That’s just me, standing in front of the scenery. Let me get out of the way:

Here are more clues:

That last note was let on the windscreen of Honda that had 2015 Massachusetts plates on it, which resulted in this action on April 9, 2017:

(I loved this guy, watching in the background:)

The lady driving the municipal tow truck had to use a “jimmy” to unlock the car to put it in neutral gear so it could be towed . . .

. . . and as she finagled her slim-jim tool into the driver’s side doorway, a passer-by lent a helping hand by shouting, “Girl, just break the window!”

OK, last week I went to a place that’s neighborly and nosey and known for being fond of a “Go Cup” or two. I think you’ve guessed by now . . .

. . . that Top Cat and I made our annual pilgrimage to New Orleans for the French Quarter Fest, where for four days the party goes on and on and on and on:

For Top Cat and me, the party had to close down each night around 10 o’clock: we can only take so many hours of fun before the over-eating, the over-drinking, and the over-dancing does us in. Top Cat would then take off to play poker at the casino down there at the bottom of Canal Street and I would hobble up to the room and soak in a hot bubble bath to soothe my weary bones for the next day’s shindigs.

In all our visits to NOLA Top Cat and I make it a point to get out of the French Quarter for at least half the day, and we’ve been west, east, north, and south of Bourbon Street (which we actually avoid as much as possible) but our preferred neighborhood in NOLA is the CBD — the Central Business District.

Once a day we walk to the Hilton Hotel in the CBD and settle in at the bar at Drago’s, where they make the best damn char-grilled oysters in the whole damn world. At the bar you can watch the line cooks smother your dinner with Drago’s magic sauce before firing it up at the grill:

Char-grilled oysters, served with plenty of lightly toasted French bread to dab up that delicious sauce. My only complaint about Drago’s is that the menu is all sea food and sausages, which are food categories that I do not eat. My favorite NOLA dish is Red Beans and Rice, which you can order as a side at Drago’s, and pay $7.95 for the smallest damn serving of red beans you’ve ever  seen:

Note that that’s a TEA spoon on the side. And then there’s the red beans at the Commerce (at 300 Camp Street in the CBD):

I used to follow foodie recommendations for the “best” red beans in the city, but once I had the red beans at Commerce my search for the BEST damn red beans was at an end:

This is the $7.00 red bean lunch, which comes with a big side salad and four pieces of buttered-grilled French bread which I didn’t photo because, hungry. I LOVE the Commerce, which only serves breakfast and lunch and closes at 2:30 in the afternoon so time your appetite accordingly.

I call this composition, “Commerce under a Full Moon”.

My fave non-edible items in NOLA are books.

Octavia Books (513 Octavia Street) is the acknowledged center of literary happenings in NOLA — if you’re going to New Orleans, check their web site for the Who’s Who who stop by every week. Octavia Books very kindly hosted an event for me last year when I visited the city to talk about Gardens of Awe and Folly (which you know has a New Orleans chapter featuring Karen Kersting’s wondrous rose garden in the Uptown/Carrollton neighborhood). It was the very best damn book event I’ve ever had:

My 2016 haircut, not the one I’m now growing out. This was the one before that.

Me at Octavia Books in 2016, in my favorite outfit of my 61st year: I bought the Eileen Fisher top and the shoes in New Orleans!

But for second-hand books, I go to Crescent City Books in the CBD, and not just because they have one of the all-time great book store cats on duty:

Meet Isabel,who has her formal shrine in the front of the shop . . .

. . . but who can also be found doing her thing in the stacks towards the back of the store:

It took me about an hour to go through the inventory — so many delish books to choose from — before I found the two books that had to come home with me; but sadly I had to leave behind a book that stands out as possibly the dullest book I’ve ever come across:

This is a surprisingly hefty book, considering the subject matter, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to lug it 1,000 miles home. Plus, it was $25, which is a lot to spend for a joke (no offense to florists). I did a bad job of snapping this pic, tho; I have a thing about seeing people’s thumbs holding stuff. It really gives me the creeps to see people’s thumbs holding stuff because some people have really, really bendy digits and I can’t stand seeing thumbs crooked in this position, even reasonably un-bendy ones like mine. Do you know what I mean? If this pic makes any of you queasy, let me know and I will crop it.

All the illustrations in this tome were like this (see below) and I mean almost exactly like this — blue was the only color that the Rittner School of Floristry Art sprang for in the publication budget:

And at the very back of the Crescent City Books I found this:

In case you can’t read it, the little note under the sign says: Please Make Sure This Door Stays Closed.

I thought about taking a peek, and I thought long and hard about this, but in the end I couldn’t spoil the pleasure of imagining what could possibly be lurking down that corridor.

Dear Readers, this is just a tid-bit of our NOLA FQF adventures, which I am sparing you the further details of because Top Cat says my posts tend to run much, much too long. So I can’t tell you about the garden show we went to where I overheard a guy complain, “He says he’s here looking for lawn art…he doesn’t know a thing about lawn art,” or the hairdresser who told me, “I seem to attract a lot of warriors to my chair.”

Nope, I have to cut to Day Five, the day we had to go to the airport to catch a flight back to our regular boring non-New Orleans life, and how after all that fun we’d had in our Favorite American City we were well and truly shattered. . .

It was only 11:00 in the morning and just a 30-minute wait ’til boarding but Top Cat could not resist the urge to catch up on his sleep.

. . . in the well and truest best way.

Good bye, New Orleans. We love you.

Actually, I think part of me is still in the Crescent City because part of me is still drunk.

On the way home neither of us was forcibly ejected from the aircraft at the last minute, so I got Top Cat to watch La La Land with me and to my surprise, Top Cat actually liked the movie very much. So this means that I owe him one, and I now have to read a book that he wants to share with me, A Confederacy of Dunces. I’ll do it, but I’m not looking forward to it. You know how grossed out I am about people’s bendy thumbs? Well, I am just as squeamish about this (and any) 300-pound main character. If there is even ONE description of Ignatius J. Reilly sweating, I am OUT.

By the way, also in the CBD.

So that’s the week that was. Next week, thanks to Dear Reader Jeanie, we’ll be painting her reference photo of Monet’s lily pond together and that will be fun because there’s always a 50-50 chance that I will do something dreadful with it.

Have a great weekend, everyone. See you next Friday!

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Thank you, Michelle (Mihaela) , for this beautiful picture of the GoAaF. What a great idea for an Instagram: beautiful photos of books and cups of tea. OK,now I get it.

Dear Reader of this blog Elizabeth emailed this Instagram pic to me on a day when I needed a little bit of applause in my life — good timing, Elizabeth; Thank you, too.

Last week I also got the proof for the Korean-language edition of Le Road Trip:

I can’t read Korean, but it seems that there are a lot more words in the Korean edition than in the English one that I wrote. But it’s plain to see that it’s a superb-looking production and I am very grateful to the publishers in Seoul for their care and consideration.

These were the bright spots in a challenging week. Mr. Fluffy (see: last week’s stray cat found in my back yard) went to the vet on Monday and had some health issues (infection, anemia) that kept him in the hospital for five days, but he’s on the mend and I am looking forward to getting him placed in a forever home soon. Of course I had hoped, as soon as I found him, that he’d be chipped for easy identification, but I wasn’t too hopeful: a person who doesn’t bother to get his cat neutered is not likely to bother getting the same cat chipped. Mr. Fluffy was not chipped.

The other dark cloud in my week as how I was not able to paint one single decent picture this week. It’s when I paint like this . . .

. . . that makes me wish I worked at Dunkin Donuts. Because isn’t everyone who stops by Dunkin Donuts in a good mood? Is there anything about selling glazed donuts that doesn’t make the world a better place?

That (above) was my first try. Shame on me that I didn’t spot the craptitude until I’d got to that point, after committing quite a bit of time to this image. So I put this picture aside and spent a day practicing how to make those spikes of light green leaves popping up in a row look convincing. What I’m trying to do, BTW, is a Summer view of Monet’s grand allee, when the iris are in bloom, which you might know better from the Spring versions of this scene that I have painted previously, back when I knew how to paint:

I might have to call QUITS on this Summer view, because my second attempt was hardly any better:

I think my time would have been better spent gorging on glazed donuts.

I have looked through my reference photos of Monet’s garden from my visit of May 2013 for an alternative view of the allee, and I’m partial to this:

Oh wait, That’s not in Monet’s garden — that’s 5 o’clock at my beautiful B&B, Le Coin des Artists, on the Rue Claude Monet in Giverny. Those fluffy ears you see at the far end of the table belong to this handsome fella:

ANY HOO, getting back in Monet’s garden, I’m thinking of doing this:

Except that it’s already been done. . . 

. . . by Fabrice Moireau in his beautifully illustrated book Le Jardin de Claude Monet:

I came across this book last month in the inter webs and I almost gave up trying to paint Monet’s garden — who wants to go where Fabrice Moireau has already gone??

It was when I got this book in my hands that I was relieved to discover something about M. Moireau that makes room for my little contribution to the Monet garden illustration world. M. Moireau is nothing but amazing when it comes to painting architecture, as you can see in this pic of Monet’s kitchen:

BUT, and this is just me talking here, and I’m nobody with the kind of cred that Fabrice Moireau has, BUT his garden paintings are, well, lacking. They not just as strong as his architectural stuff. Compare (above) to this:

I know what Monet’s all looks like in September, when the bright orange and red nasturtiums are filling in the allee and the color scheme of the flower bends alongside it are warm hues of yellow and scarlet, and this doesn’t do it for me. This is how I see it:

I should note that repetition of M. Moireau’s subject matter is hard to avoid because there are a limited number of garden paths in Monet’s garden from which to take a view.  In the Water Garden the situation is even more dire. There is only one main path to take around the pond, so everyone tends to get the same views. For example, the view of the famous Japanese bridge that I painted last month:

And M. Moireau’s take on the same view:

I know exactly where we were both standing when we took in this scene. But as you can see, M. Moireau pulled back his point of view much farther than I did. I thought I’d show this painting for Dear Reader Jeanine, to show how one artist coped with all those damn background trees in Monet’s garden.

You can see that M. Moireau made the decision to leave the willow trees (on the right side of his pic) undifferentiated, and to paint in more detail the Copper Beech and what I think are maple trees. I think this is a curious decision to make, because it’s the willow trees that give the Water Garden its “oomph”, n’est-ce pas? But I assume that M. Moireau is making decisions that play to his strengths as a painter (don’t we all?) and M. Moireau is very good at painting Copper Beeches and the like. But there you are, Dear Reader Jeanie: massive background foliage.

Speaking of “playing to your strengths”, let’s take another look at the way M. Moireau did the allee of Monet’s garden:

Notice how he has emphasized the the foreground in this composition. Notice that the foreground contains the architectural elements that M. Mireau is so fantastically adept at painting: the hand railings to the staircase to Monet’s front door, a stair, a bench; the foreground also shows some indistinct [lame] stuff that seems to be white flowers on either side of the staircase which are there, it seems to be, to take up space.  M. Moireau is also very good at painting [certain kinds of] trees — so the big yew trees at the top of the allee take up another big chunk of the pic. What’s left, in my option, squeezed into the narrow band in the middle of the pic, is very little information about one of the most stunning features of Monet’s garden — those amazingly curated color fields of flowers that line the allee. Why? Because M. Moireau doesn’t “do” flower beds.

But man, can that guy paint Paris!

In my humble and respectful opinion, M. Moireau, as an unparalleled artist of urban landscapes and the premier painter of architectural subjects, was the wrong guy to let loose in Monet’s garden.

He should have been sent to Villandry:

As for me, I am going to send myself back to the drawing board and give the allee another chance. Maybe I’ll find a way to paint to my strengths. And if not, I will live to my strengths and find a cat to give a lap to, sip a cup of tea, stuff myself with glazed donuts, complain about the world, and then take a nap, all of which I am very good at.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

 

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