Le Road Trip stuff

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Yes, we will be painting together later in this post (it’s very looooooong today, go get a cup of tea) but first OMG OMG OMG I have to tell you about my visit with Neil DeGrasse Tyson:

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When Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is not writing best selling books about astrophysics or dropping by The Daily Show to chat with Jon Stewart about cosmic stuff he is the Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History on Manhattan’s upper west side. I once went to a party and was in the same small room as Neil DeG. (he and I have the same literary agent, the great Betsy Lerner) and we smiled at each other over the hors d’ouvres buffet table but I was too star struck to say anything. I do have me a gigantic a crush on the awesome Neil DeG.

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On Wednesday night Top Cat and I went to see Dr. Neil DeG. host the 14th Annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate at the AMNH. The topic for the evening’s duscussion was The Existence of Nothing and Neil DeG. was moderating a five-person panel that consisted of a physicist (expert on “time loops” and time travel) and a physicist (expert on elementary particles) and a physicist (expert on string theory ) and a philosopher (with a mathematics degree from UVA with a special interest in large cardinals) and a guy who writes about science (expert on Zero and its twin, Infinity).

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iPhone pix of Neil DeG. on the left with the panel on stage at the Lefrak Theater at the AMNH. I forget to bring my camera. I’m very stoopid.

During the ensuing give-and-take it turns out that every body on the panel had a working knowledge of general relativity, topology, Star Trek, Saturday Night Live skits from the ’70s, cosmology (observational and theoretical), dark matter, negative curvature, and the history of science. Since everyone eventually agreed that even in the empty vacuum of space on the edge of the universe there is something (the laws of physics, whether or not we know them, for one thing; energy is another) the real issue was whether nothingness as a theoretical construct was important, interesting, or meaningful to the future of science and/or mankind.

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At least, that’s what I think the discussion was about. As I sat and listened to the whole thrilling two hour debate all I could really get  through my head was  Boy, I am stupid.

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Me, trying to understand the difference between Cosmology and a Cosmo.

I think it’s because I spend too much time watching reality TV that I get the mistaken impression that I’m smart. For example, this week the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills went to Paris and it was so stupid that I felt like a genius compared to Kyle, shown here on her visit to the Pont des Arts:

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I know and love the Pont des Arts. I put it in my book, Le Road Trip:

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Imagine how freaking crazy it makes me to watch as Kyle and her husband put their padlock on the railings of the Pont des Arts, an idiotic custom that has begun since I was last there. Lovers put their initials on a cheap hardware store lock and they snap it onto the chain-link fence, trashing the look and feel of the place. It is nothing short of desecration and there was Kyle, oohing and ahhing over her lock — and then telling her husband that she hopes her kids will one day come and see their parents’ lock on “The Love Lock Bridge”. As if her crappy lock was now a permanent fixture in the City of Light. Yes, she’s that STUPID.  (A man from the Paris street cleaning department comes with bolt cutters every week and chops off the damn locks that tourists insist on putting up.) I believe that Kyle thinks the name of the bridge is actually The Love Lock Bridge, and I believe that she hasn’t got the curiosity to read a damn guide book to find out anything else about the bridge except for her damn lock.

On behalf of Americans with half a brain and a respect for the history and beauty of Paris, I apologize to the citizens and the street cleaners of the 6th arrondissement.

ONE  MORE digression before we get to the painting. P1140307

That’s Mrs. Cardinal in the foreground.

Yes, it snowed again this past week on the Isle of Long. It started to fall around 1 o’clock in the afternoon last Saturday.

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After giving me the hairy eyeball, this guy turned and pointedly glared over his shoulder:

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I know that look. That look means that there is a big fat furry pest too damn close to the bird feeder.

That’s Taffy, under the bird feeder, and this is his “Who, me?” look:

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The flash captures the scene better:

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And here I thought I was finished with the Champagne-O-Meter for the season. Ha!

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I happened to be working on another Key West illustration, how ironic, when it began to snow.

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This is a picture of a grove of Australian Pines on the beach at Key West. I find it very meditative to apply a lot of masking fluid and I would rather meditate on applying masking fluid than on the *@##! snow. For the big tree trunks in the foreground, BTW, I don’t use my customary toothpick — I use the end of one of my paint brushes (the end without the bristles):

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If you are bored with these “Me Doing A Watercolor” demonstrations, feel free to skip to the end of this post. There’s another cat picture for you down there! But for those of you hanging in with me, this is how I put in the horizon of sea and the sky in the background:

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Then I put in a wash of yellow (this is how you paint foliage that is back-lit):

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While the yellow wash is still wet, I start dabbing in shades of green:

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I like working in my chalky Grumbacher blue paint into the shadows here:

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Sorry for that show of my injured finger tip. With the Winter making my skin so dry I have split a lot of my fingertips from all the typing I’ve been doing, writing the Damn Garden Book. These fingertip splits are very painful, like getting a new paper cut every time you tap the keyboard. Type-Writing is hard! Literally! Poor, poor, pitiful me! After I finished painting this picture I soaked gauze in Vitamin E oil and taped up my sore digits so they can heal overnight:

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Taffy, on behalf of the world, shows me the amount of sympathy I am due. By the way, he is yawning, not gagging, altho gagging would also be an acceptable response.

So, back to the painting, where I’m laying in colors — wet-in-wet style…that is, I’m layering colors in a series of washes that overlap (using my fattest brushes):

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More shades of green for foliage — this is the part I love:

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So this is it so far:

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It needs, now, some real dark bits:

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Do you see where I’m going with this?

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And now we put the masking fluid to good use!

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After I’ve peeled off the masking fluid, I’m ready to get to the heart of this scene:

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I’m going to leave some of the highlights on the left side of the tree trunks just plain blank white — I’m going to let the paper do the work:

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But with other tree trunks, I’m going to go for a yellow-green highlight:

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I think the mix of highlights gives texture to the lights and shadows of this scene:

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And Done. I am in love with the Australian Pines in Key West (but, sadly, they come sans koala bears). I would love to have an Australian Pine grove in my backyard, and I wish there could be wild koalas romping in their poetic shadows. Did you know it was SUMMMER right now, Down Under?

Here on the shores of the Long Island Sound, it snowed again on Tuesday!!   Yay.   And Thursday!!   Yay.

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This is not the footprint of a koala bear.

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These are not the tracks of a koala bear either.

These are Canada geese tracks in the snow, but OMG OMG OMG I wish they were koala bear tracks in the sand.

I hope this post wasn’t too long today — and dear Monique and Whimsy2: I read your question from last week’s blog so next week I will show you how I trace onto watercolor paper. And you know what? I’m in such a good mood (still got those koalas on my mind, plus I’m sipping a G&T while I’m typing this) that whatever I paint for next week’s blog I will give away. Stay tuned.

 

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Last Friday there was a blizzard here on the shore of the Long Island Sound. Oooo, so pretty:
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That’s the Champagne-O-Meter in the center.

On Saturday the sun came out. Sill kind of attractive, in a good old Winter kind of way:

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On Sunday the forecast called for warming weather. Winter is starting to look worn out:

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On Monday I had to remove the Champagne-O-Meter from the side yard to the fridge because I hate to see warm champagne. Now it just looks sad out there:

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On Tuesday it rained all day. Those are small puddles of grey water pooling in between the dead grass:

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On Wednesday it was Spring-like and the trees look like dead sticks and the yard looks like crap:

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It’s now Thursday and the yard still looks like crap but it’s way cold. As soon as I finish my blogging I’m going to the fridge and opening that bottle of champagne because I’m pretty sure I won’t be needing it for any more blizzards this Winter and I have something to celebrate: I have champagne in the fridge!

Also, a wonderful new reader from Australia emailed me that she went to see the blockbuster Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra — and found Le Road Trip  on sale in their book shop! I can’t believe that I wrote a book that the National Gallery of Australia sells in their book shop. I feel very important.

I’m itching to show off my Australian accent to my cats, but  I can only talk Strine when I’m slightly loaded so I am DYING to get to that champagne.

Have a great weekend everyone!

 

 

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You know what they say about watching paint dry…well, this is like that, only with masking fluid:

I use a toothpick to lay down my Windsor Newton masking fluid because it’s very viscous and I can’t handle it with a paint brush. In this illustration, I am protecting my foreground subject (mailboxes — I love mailboxes) with the masking fluid:

I can get into tight corners better with a toothpick than with a paint brush, which is important considering the small scale of my work:

You have to make sure the masking fluid is bone dry before you go to the next step. Notice that all I have here are a few lines drawn in pencil to guide me in this illustration. In other words, things can go very, very wrong at any point in this operation:

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As I paint in the background (using my chalky Grumbacher paints with a lot of water for a light, pastel effect) the masking fluid protects my mailboxes so I can be loose with the watercolors:

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I’ll be using a lot of green/blues in this picture, and a lot of yellow/reds. I use my fancy Windsor Newton paints for all the yellows and greens I need, and the Grumbacher for orange…and I’m also using two different cups of water for the cool (green and blue) colors and the warm (yellow/red/brown/orange) ones and I change the water frequently to keep the paint colors crisp:

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You can see that I’m working on an Autumn scene and unfortunately  I’ll have to paint fallen leaves. I have no idea how to do this, so I’m winging it here:

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Now time for background detail:

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See how the yellow wash is peeking through the dark foliage? And the masking fluid is giving me a lot of freedom to slap on paint without worrying about my mailboxes:

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This picture as a steep perspective, so here I have to “go big” in the foreground:

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And now I’m ready to peel off the masking fluid and get to the mailboxes:

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Cool, right?

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And then, mailbox No. 2 looked wonky to me, so I re-did my drawing:

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I left the foreground without detail because I will be dropping in some text down there:

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(I think I’ll have to go back and fix that black mailbox. I think I made it worse with the re-drawing of it.)

This is an actual road on the north shore of Long Island that leads to the wonderful Autumn garden of the 19th-century poet/journalist William Cullen Bryant. When I first started painting, all I could manage was a Triscuit (see left, below). Well, look at me now! I’m painting Super-Size!

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Just shows you what a lot of practice can do for a Bear of Very Little Talent.

And now, an announcement:

Le Road Trip is being published in CHINA!

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You know what they say about China. “You take an author with a small cult following in the USA  and translate those numbers to the billion people in China and you have an author with a small cult following in The Middle Kingdom.”

Question of the day: Does this post leave you with a craving for Triscuits?

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Monet’s Garden at Giverny, that is.

Then we lay in the masking fluid:

This is the Grande Allee, of course, at Monet’s garden at Giverny (in September, when the walkway is full of nasturtiums):

Lately I haven’t been painting in sky so this means it’s done:

Full page illustration, 8″ x 7″.

 

Yes, I’ve been working on my flower-painting this week. All you have to do, in order to get better at something at which you stink (see last week’s post), is to just keep at it. I painted for HOURS to get the hang of this. I’m just saying what Thomas Edison said: Sweat It Out, Dude, If You Want To Invent The LIghtbulb.

I’m just saying, too, that there is no need to traipse all the way to Giverny to see a spectacular garden when chances are there is a treasure closer to home. And where I live on the north shore of Long Island, there is a wonderland that we call the William Cullen Bryant estate. Top Cat took us there this past Sunday, about an hour before sunset, to see the last of the magnificent Fall foliage:

I ask you, does this even look real? (Note half-moon bridge made of stone in background.)

As George Harrison, my favorite Beatle, said in the live-in-studio recording of For You Blue on the last ever Beatles album, Let It Be of 1969: “Elbow James is got nothing on this [something].”  I really should Google that line.  It’s been 43 years since I first heard For You Blue and all this time I’ve never had a clue what George was saying, except that it comes back to me at times like this:

Giverny’s got nothing on this corner of Long Island. Yes, that is a perfect little knot garden on a cliff high above the beautiful Long Island Sound, the view from Mr. Bryant’s back porch.

And this is his sunken garden, next to the parterre, which is a lawn for some kind of bowling game, or croquet, I believe.  Oh, yes, Top Cat and I love this garden at the Bryant Estate, in Summer, Winter, and Fall. (I don’t care for Spring so I’ve never been here during those tacky months.) I count this garden as just one of the many benefits of being Mrs. Top Cat, because without him I would never have known that such a darling acre of Earth existed.

But I ask you, why schlepp a whole two miles from your house when you can probably find beauty in your own backyard?

This is Dudley of the Backyard Cats, catching the rays at 6:14 am this morning.  In my backyard, the rule is: Wherever There Is a Sunbeam, There Is Probably a Cat Making The Most of It:

Candy, in camouflage.

Joined by her son, Taffy.

Oscar, in igloo #2.

Bibs, tosey in igloo #1.

Phil, our resident baby possum, enjoying the cat food buffet. We LOVES our Phil. But he shuns the sunshine, so I took this photo at twilight.

I hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving and avoided the dangerous topics of conversation that can torpedo a family get-together in these yappy, noisy, bloviating times. But as it’s a holiday of Thanksgiving I want to give thanks to you all who read this blog,week by week, giving me your wonderful feedback (see last post re: work-in-progress — I LIKE the “empty space”  advise you gave me — thank you!)

I am so very grateful for your company!

 

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This Claude Monet painting of his beloved waterlilies (1905) was sold at Christie’s New York last week,on Nov. 7, for $43,762,500. Yes, that’s 43 million, seven-hundred sixty-two thousand, five hundred dollars. This is of great interest to me because I just happen to be working on the “Monet” chapter of my Damn Garden Book (sketch, below, in progress):

All the ladies in this picture are versions of me.

Now, if you’ve read my book Le Road Trip you’ll know that I was not really thrilled with my last to Monet’s garden at Giverny — it was crowded and overgrown (in my opinion) and I was in a bad mood. Nevertheless, I have fond memories of the garden from several previous visits and it is those memories that I am trying to communicate. Also, hey — it’s GIVERNY. What garden memoirist can get away with writing a Damn Garden Book without including GIVERNY???    Here’s my illustration of the view from Monet’s bedroom window (a view he was particularly fond of):

Yeah, I know. I’m really crappy at painting flower gardens. Truth to tell, I’m not that crazy about flower gardens, and it shows.

I would much rather gaze at the Japanese maple tree in my front yard than at Monet’s waterlilies, to tell the truth, especially at this time of year:

And the Japanese dogwood tree on the patio is no slouch in the spectacular foliage department either:

If you look real hard you can see Bibs eating his breakfast from his pink bowl in the background, on the left.

Oh! Frost on Fall leaves is ten times more poetic than dew on a rose petal!

And I can tell you: there is nothing at Giverny to compare to the awesomeness of the American Elm tree near my house on Long Island:

I’ve never been tempted to pick a single flower on any of my visits to Giverny, but when it comes to a hundred-year old American Elm…

Here I am putting my crutches to good use to nab me an American Elm leaf to paint. (This photo was taken by my friend Melinda last month — my knee injury is healing just fine and I only use crutches now for whacking at stuff that is annoyingly out of reach.)

Even my dear husband, the Great and Wonderful Top Cat, knows better than to bring me roses. When he wants to be romantic, this is what he brings me:

This is what I love! A bouquet of beautiful fall leaves! My Top Cat gets me, he really does.

Monet had his obsession with the waterlilies  (he painted 250 canvases of his water garden at Giverny from 1899 until his death in 1926) and I have my obsession with Fall leaves:

One of the pages I am most proud of in my book Le Road Trip is page 56:

I am proud to be the first person to have calculated the going rate of a Monet waterlily painting down to the square inch, which was at that time  $23,319.00.

I think this is valuable information in quantifying pricelessness, in that a Monet painting might be so astronomically/mind bogglingly expensive to buy (see above, $43,762,500) that it might as well be priceless, but nothing is truly priceless. Remember, I used to be the Faberge expert for the same Christie’s New York auction house that sold this latest Monet, and I used to put price tags on all kinds of priceless stuff.

When I wrote Le Road Trip, the going rate for a Monet waterlily painting was based on the June 2008 sale at Christie’s London of a 1919 painting that sold for $80,451,178. Yes, that’s 80 million four hundred fifty-one thousand and change. And yes, that’s the record for a Monet at auction.

However, that Monet was big, 40 ” x 80″ , and the one that sold last week for $43,762,500 was about half that size at 35″ x 39″,  so:

The new going rate for a Monet painting of his beloved waterlilies is $32,060.4 per square inch.

And you are in luck! Because the going rate for a painting of my beloved Fall leaves is FREE — which is well and truly PRICELESS — and today I announce the winners of my 2012 Fall Leave Give Away:

Actual leaf not included.

This priceless painting goes to Nadine!    Nadine, send me an email at vivianswift at yahoo dot com and we will discuss shipping etc!

And the winner of this priceless painting:

… is Bobbi!   Bobbi, please see above.

I wish I could send all you dear readers a Fall leaf painting in appreciation for you all, but I would go broke if I handed out priceless paintings every week. I’m no Monet, after all! (Oh, wait. Even if he were alive Monet doesn’t get the millions… Jeeze. Being a famous artist as just as lucrative as being a priceless one.)

And now I have to quit painting Fall leaves so I can figure out how to paint a damn flower garden. See you next Friday — when I hope to have painted a less ugly Giverny..

 

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Since the world revolves around me, let me say that there are two kinds of readers in the world: Those who read my first book first

Scenes from When Wanderers Cease to Roam

…and think that When Wanderers Cease to Roam is the kind of book I should always write…

More scenes from When Wanderers Cease to Roam

…and those who read my second book first

Scenes from Le Road Trip

…and think Le Road Trip isn’t as bad as the first kind of reader thinks it is.

More scenes from Le Road Trip

Either way,  you readers are committed to books in a way that I totally understand. You depend on books to help you furnish a richly appointed inner life.

My lovely reader Janet B. puts both my first and second books to good use.

 

Now, I have heard from readers who read my first book first that my second book suffers by comparison, in that Le Road Trip is not as free-ranging a narrative as the one they enjoyed in When Wanderers Cease to Roam.

First things first, you know, in this book my first priority was France.

The most delightful criticism I have read, so far, from a reader who read this second book first (and obviously did not know what she was in for) is that half-way though Le Road Trip she got tired of all the cats, already.

I rarely burst out laughing while reading a negative review, but this one made me almost choke on my tea.  That is funny! Too many cats! AS IF there could EVER be too many cats!

This isa sampler for Dear Reader Joan, who requested some pix of the Damn Garden Book.

But I thank all you readers who have suggested that I go back to my Wanderers roots and be more of a roamer in my next book, which will be somewhat easier to do than with the Damn France Book since the garden book is a travelog of the ten most unusual, interesting, dopey, intellectual, idiosyncratic, overwhelming, romantic, and inspiring gardens I’ve experienced in Africa, South America, Europe, and the USA.

But I do warn you that if you don’t like cats, you can not come with me to the special garden in Key West. Because (as I say in the Key West chapter), if you don’t like cats…





…you have no business hanging at in Key West. They are everywhere in the Conch Republic.

Thank you, Dear Commentors and Readers, for your get well wishes last week.  All the nuisance paperwork since the emergency room visit has been filed,  surgery is scheduled for next Friday, Top Cat has stocked the fridge with champagne and angel food cake for my recovery.

 

 

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On my bookshelf, Le Road Trip is between Beatrix Potter and Serious Literature

…speaking of Le Road Trip, if you’re not ca va with Amazon.com, please feel free to leave a review at Goodreads or the interweb/social media nexus of your choice (hell…go walk down Interstate 95 screaming READ THIS BOOK!!!!!) and email me  with your address so I can put you on my exclusive, coveted ChrisHanuKwanSolstice list!!!

(Hello First Time Readers! See two weeks’ ago post to decipher this.)

So, putting my work world problems on the back burner for now, do you all realize that this is the last weekend in AUGUST already???

Oscar and Taffy, seizing the day.

There’s only a limited number of days of that Summer Je Sais Exactement Quoi left.

It’s in that certain quality of light…

Amazing grace.

…that enlightens…

Notice the bonsai in the window box!

…even as it illuminates the ordinary.

PLEASE take a walk this weekend, and keep an eye out for something EXTRAORDINARY. You never know what treasures you might find out there…

…even if it only looks like some piece of tissue-paper trash that got blown against a neighbor’s fence that got rained on and that got baked to a crisp for a few days until it was totally disintegrated by the forces of nature…

…there just might be something special in that muck:

Oh, if only I could not read English and could imagine that this fine calligraphy which is melded unto this frail fallen leaf spoke of enchantments and longing and eternal devotion and stuff.

Anything is out there, in the last light of August.

 

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I Went Camping!

Yes, it counts as camping even if it’s only overnight. I was wondering how we would fill up the entire day up there in the foothills of the Adirondack mountains in upstate New York, out there in nature, with nary a baguette vending machine in sight. (I was pretty sure there’d be rustic versions of the pissoir all over the place.)

Here’s all you have to do to keep yourself occupied for hours and hours on end, up there in the foothills of the Adirondack mountains in upstate New York: all you have to do is get yourself —

Top Cat was the Skipper, I was Gilligan, and it was supposed to be a three hour tour. Well, it was supposed to be a 1.3 mile walk, but it turned out that it was a 1.3 mile walk just to get to the trailhead of a three-mile hike, the first two-thirds of which was uphill, the last one-third of which was downhill. I think I’ll take uphill any day (easier on the knees). I took this picture in a clearing on that first 1.3 mile saunter…

…never dreaming that I’d soon become intimately acquainted with every rocky gully and root-entwined slope of that mound on the left.

Fast forward a few hours and many existential musings on the endlessness of suffering and we arrive at our destination:

This is the place that the most bored map maker in history named Big Pond. (What? Were all the good names used up by the time the settlers got to this corner of the Adirondacks? Was there no more poetry to be wrung out of the native American languages that gave us place names such as Chicago etc???

Top Cat dove right in. I stayed on shore, wishing I were a dog splashing my heart out for the sheer joy of being a DoG.

It doesn’t look it, but these DoGs were tearing up and down the shore, pulling sticks twice their size out of the mud, chasing each other in and out of the water, leaping through the tall grass and barking to one another “It’s a GREAT day to be a DoG!!!

There were a few other groups of people there too (Big Pond does not have a lifeguard so it’s not — thankfully –“kid” friendly) and they all brought their dogs. (I have no problem sharing a swimming hole with pooches.) There was an older (my age) couple there with their dog, named Miles Davis, and another older (my age) couple there with their dog named Ruby Tuesday. No Comment.

It was getting on towards cocktail hour dinner time, so Top Cat and I headed back to the campsite. It was a thirty minute walk, on flat land, to hie our way back to the all the comforts of camping. Why? Because there’s a freaking ROAD that links our campground to *!**#  Big Pond. NO DAMN COMMENT.

Home Sweet Home:


 My chef prepares his specialty, Chien Chaud de la Turkey:

Note glass of red wine to the left of the flame.

(Yes, this is how Top Cat gets his Bordeaux to chambre when he camps.)

I swear it was hot as Hades in New York this past weekend — isn’t it the hottest Summer on record all over the US? — but we were cool as a cucumbers up in the foothills of the Adirondacks…

…which brings me to the cool breezes of ChrisHanuKwanSolstice in August:

Since 2007 it has been a tradition here at VivianWorld to send out a ChrisHanuKwanSolstice card every year to my beloved Blog Readers:

These cards are handmade by Yours Truly

…completely original and signed by Moi

…and Suitable For Framing

But this year it’s a little different.

Usually I limit my ChrisHanuKwanSolstice cards to the first 50 readers who sign up on December 1…

…but this year you can get on my list if you post a review of Le Road Trip on Amazon.com. Post your review and then send me an email at vivianswift at yahoo dot com with your mailing address (anywhere in the world) and you’re on the List for being Nice in 2012.

I think this is a fairer way than a first-come shout-out to distribute my annual card (I’m giving you all plenty of warning!!). So  review the Damn France Book now and get on the list!

As they say in France, Merci Mucho.

 

 

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When I was writing Le Road Trip I stayed away from traveling to Paris because I didn’t want any new information or experiences to corrupt the specific memories I was trying to pin down in my Damn France Book. But that didn’t stop me from gathering my Wish List, my Must Do List of people, places, and things I have to check out the next time I’m en ville. Top of the list: this baguette vending machine (above).

And I want to see the last pissoir in Paris (on theBoulevard Arago, near the famed La Sante prison, 14th arr.).

For now, though, for my daydreaming, I’ve been revisiting my favorite Paris book, Paris Cafe, Le Select Crowd by Rick Tulka.

Rick is a MAD magazine staffer who lives in Paris and hangs out, every day, at Le Cafe Select.

He brings his sketch book with him and “works” at the cafe.

I don’t know if I am more envious of his supreme skill…

…or of the fact that his “office” serves champagne.

Self Portrait by Rick Tulka, at “work” in his “office”.

If you could use a little Paris in your life today, check out Rick and Paris Cafe, The Select Crowd.

But then again, I have cats in my office.

Which is a lot like having an endless flow of champagne in the office, except for the fun, the bubbly, and the good tasting part.

Oh, that little painting of a Japanese tea house that Coco is ignoring?

Yes, that’s a peek at some stuff I’m going for the garden book. Now, I like tea houses…but I detest macha tea (the powdered green stuff they serve in the Japanese tea ceremony) so I’ve never bothered to sit in on this particular cultural event. I’m probably missing out on a fascinating and deeply moving esthetic experience…or not. My poll for the day is: If you had a choice, would you go for the Tea Ceremony, or Champagne at a Paris Cafe?

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I had a book event to do in Music City last week, and afterwards Top Cat and I took the scenic route between Nashville and Asheville on scenic interstate 441 takes you through Pigeon Forge, TN.

Pigeon Forge is the Atlantic City Boardwalk of the Great Smoky Mountains, so Top Cat and I felt right at home.

Pigeon Forge is named for the forge on the Pigeon River nearby. It was so hot in Tennesse — 97 humid degrees — that  if this iceberg had been real I would have thrown myself all over it:

Dollywood was within spitting distance, but we were too damn hot and bothered to make a side trip just so we could show off our big city irony.  The highway traffic was amusement enough, watching the passing big rigs haul livestock, produce, flammable liquids, and other big rigs:

And then we entered the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I took this shot of low, cool, misty clouds…

…and didn’t even notice this guy celebrating the drop in temperature until I reviewed the pictures at home:

But I did notice this adorable Indian-American family pile out of their RV, and I hollered at Top Cat, “Pull over! Pull over! Pull over!!!!” And I pretended I was taking photos because I was thrilled with the scenery, which I was, of course.

Think about being stuck in an RV on a road trip with your pain-in-the-ass in-laws and assorted snot-nosed teenaged-siblings. Think about  what it would take to get your motley crew to agree to go along with a sight gag like this. Whoever you Sub-Continental Indian-American peoples are, I LOVE YOU.

The major tourist attraction in Asheville, North Carolina is the Vanderbilt pile, called Biltmore, the largest private family home in America:

This is the back porch (yeah, it has gargoyles):

This is the 8,000 acre back yard:

This is a corner of the formal gardens:

I thought it was odd that there was no way to view this parterre as it is supposed to be seen, that is, from above (so you can appreciate the intricate patterns that the flower beds make). Luckily, in Asheville’s downtown, there’s a compensating aerial view of Beautiful Buncombe County, North Carolina, from the Sky Bar:

If I had figured out, on Monday night, that the Sky Bar would be closed on Tuesday, this would have been a stunning photo of the glorious Monday evening sun set over the Great Smoky Mountains at 8:15 pm, instead of a bright Tuesday afternoon at 4 o’clock shot. For missing my opportunity for an Asheville Sun Set, I consoled myself with a visit to Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar, the best damn bookstore in the world:

This ain’t the half of it. I took more pictures of the Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar than Biltmore. In a future post I will show you every nook of this lovable, private, cavernous, libertarian, elegant, and homey cathedral of books and booze because if there’s a book store in Heaven, it looks like the Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar. On the other bouqiniste forum….

…I thought it was odd that Asheville, a thoroughly charming city, had such a cheerless public library:

I wonder if, by making the public library look like the IBM Home Office, it’s to discourage loitering by the multitudes of hippies that are to be found in every inch of downtown Asheville? [This is Pritchard Square, below, home of Asheville’s 24-hour, 7-day Drum Circle, of which I was too polite to take pix of the really seedy street people to be found here.]

Top Cat and I were scouting Asheville as a possible venue for our deuxieme acte, so we spent four hours looking at properties with a real estate agent who kindly drove us from one end of Greater Asheville to the other. Here’s the strangest thing about Asheville:

At a red light on Swannanoa River Road, we (Top Cat, Me, and the Real Estate Lady)  pulled up behind an Oldsmobile being driven (more like being absent-mindedly steered) by a little old lady who seemed to be lost in thought about the good old days when Bing Crosby ruled the Hit Parade. The light turned green, and the old gal didn’t budge, so after two whole seconds I said to our real estate guide, “I think you better honk your horn and wake that lady up.”

The real estate agent (Janice), a gorgeous native of the gracious south, said to me in her sugar-sweet lilt, “Oh, we don’t honk horns here. We’ll just wait until she notices the  green light.”

Several thoughts went through my mind at this point.

The one that made me look least like an asshole was: Hey! I only have one life to live and I’ll be damned if I’m going to waste precious seconds of it coddling …

…come to think of it, all of my thoughts made me look like an asshole.

Afterwards, Top Cat and I went to lunch at Asheville Public Restaurant and I had second thoughts…I could live in a place where they make chandeliers out of Coke bottles:

What surprised me was that even in this very hip and trendy Asheville bistro, the menu was heavy with pork products. Southern people love their ham and bacon, no matter how Occupy Wall Street their esthetics might look. Oh lordy, I need my south-of-the Mason-Dixon-line readers to guide me: what’s a person to do in Dixie when she don’t eat pork????  Do y’all just drink dinner??? [I could live with that.]

And Sandra, honey, I know you were just having a bad day when you commented on my last week’s post about Nashville when you told me to keep my sorry ass away from Music City ever again [see last Friday’s Comments]. I raise my glass [of surprisingly good estate wine, seeing as it was baked on the tarmac of Nashville airport for nine hours] to you, you cranky old fussbudget native of Nashville, bless your heart.

 

 

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