Giverny stories

Last Friday’s little storm caught me by surprise, meaning that it blew into Long Island on the very day that the last of the stuff from the monster Winter Storm Jonas had melted, leaving me optimistically out of champagne, so all I have to show you today is a Pinot Grigio-O-Meter:

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The snow started at 9:30 and was over by 3 o’clock in the afternoon which, on a snowy Winter day, was indeed a very Happy Hour. This weekend is predicted to be super cold with flurries, but rest assured that the Pinot Grigio has gone on to booze heaven and there is a new  Champagne-O-Meter awaiting its destiny:

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I’m so very happy to hear that last week’s Watercolor tutorial was very helpful to a number of Dear Readers. If you remember, we painted bark:

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Dear Reader Sandy Lane left a Comment that she did a happy dance after she painted her first tree (with or without Pinto Grigio, she did not say). And our own Felicia sent me a message — OMG It Works! followed your steps  and on my first try painted the best tree I’ve ever painted.  It actually looks like a tree! I’m beyond excited and so grateful for your tips. And she sent me proof:

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Very cool — I love the shadows and the background evergreens! Thank you, Felicia!

So, my Dear Readers, what shall we paint today? How about a nice flower garden? Like, the one in Giverny that I am currently obsessed with? The one that Monet tended for 43 years, from 1883 until his death in 1926? You know, the one with the memorable allee:

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Yeah, that one. I’m using my own reference photograph to draw from:

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As usual, I am going to work in miniature, because painting small-scale is where I feel most at ease. First I get my sky in, and then I use my fattest brush to blob in some different shades of green:

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I am working wet-in-wet here — meaning that I dab in wet watercolor on top of already wet watercolors — because I like it when the colors bleed in interesting ways, like this:

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Oooooooo…I like this bleed so much that I am going to leave it alone, and do my best to make sure that it stays there as a part of the picture. I use my smallest brush to fill out the foliage on top, to make an interesting silhouette. As you can see, even though I work in miniature, I do my background in little bits and pieces; I work too slowly to be able to  paint a background (even a teeny background such as this) in one swell foop:

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This picture is going to take about three and a half hours to paint.

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One of the reasons it’ll take so long is because I take great care when I have to paint a dark background behind a light-colored object, in this case a small tree in the foreground. I have to say that painting in these fussy details is very, very relaxing for me.

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I do not have a relaxing personality. I’m a bit too cranky and antsy to be what most people might call “nice”.  I’m not built for meditation or contemplation or anything like introspection (I am not very deep), but I can get very Zen-y when I have to be gentle and calm to make itty bitty brush strokes around titter-bittier stuff in my teeny tiny illustrations. I just love the slow breathing and the patience it takes. My mind wanders, and I find myself having very gratifying hypothetical conversations with people I truly dislike, tete-a-tetes with pin heads in which I get the better of them with my outstanding wit and wisdom. Oh well. Even in my most serene moments, I like to argue with the world.

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By the way, I have to photoshop my fingers in these pictures in order to make them look all smooth and pink. It’s February and my hands are dead dry and chapped and most of my cuticles and finger tips are split and u-g-l-y. I just thought I’d let you know that I’m as guilty as Vogue magazine when it comes to faking an impossible standard of beauty. Sorry.

I’m very proud that I am painting this scene true to life, even though it means that I have to paint a red-leafed tree. I can’t stand red-leaf trees (I don’t know their names but I’m sure a lot of you Dear Readers can tell me). Trees should be green, period. Maroon trees depress me.

You can see how I am doing my best to show off that interesting green blob-bleed on the left side of the picture:

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And now for the FUN part! I get to paint the flowers!! Again I am working wet-in-wet, bleeding in blue and purple to make an interesting cloud-like pool of color, which I swipe through to make those vertical lines (for a change of texture):

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Time to finish that foreground tree:

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The detail that I’m adding in here are the extremely violet tulips that grow at the very top of this allee:

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I make the same wet-in-wet clouds of color for the other side of the allee:

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Monet painted his garden furnishings (including his Japanese bridge) a very vivid and unusual shade of green. I match his color by mixing a Winsor Newton (watercolor) blue-green with an acrylic emerald green — the acrylic paint has the “oomph” (the artificiality and opacity) that I need to make Monet’s arbors and trellises stand out amidst the jumble of his very “busy” garden:

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Like this:

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You can see what I chose to edit out of the scene that I ended up painting by comparing it to the reference photo again:

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Now,  if you compare that photo to this one I took from a very slightly different angle. . .

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. . . you can see that I have left out that tall poplar tree smack in the middle of the view:

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I really don’t like the way that poplar tree juts up in the center of this view. But, *sigh*, I know that I will end up putting it in, however, for now I can’t bear it. Also, you can see that I go easy when it comes to painting in at the necessary darks in the background — call it lack of confidence, or fear of making the whole thing look too muddy. But I also know that I’ll have to go back and dab in some chiaroscuro as soon as I get the nerve to do that poplar tree.

These are all the exact same issues I will be dealing with when I paint this other view of the allee:

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In my world, this is a mural. But that’s for next week.

The other news in VivianWorld is that I got my hands on a pre-publication copy of Gardens of Awe and Folly. Bloomsbury mailed me my official Author Copy.

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I took it out of its wrapper and put it on the little table in the hallway where I dump all of our junk mail. I made a cup of tea, and I went to eBay for some reckoning-avoidance shopping (why are all the cool vintage Monkees T-shirts only to be found in the UK??). Then I went to my cardio/kick boxing class at my gym, and I stopped by Loew’s to buy 40 pounds of bird food, and when I came home and did a load of laundry and watched  Judge Judy. Etc.

OK, it wasn’t until the next day that I opened the book for inspection. As always, Bloomsbury has done a superb job making this book a lovely object to hold in our hand. The illustrations are colorful, the binding is archival, the quality of the paper is fine-arty. And then I found one mistake in text layout that is all my fault (I indented a line that should have been left flush) and I slammed it shut.

All in all, I find that the DGB is indeed a lovely book full of wisdom and humor that I desperately wish I could re-write and re-draw all over again, just so I could make sure it is 100% indisputably, with-a-doubt, painfully and putatively pluperfect. I am in agony. The book is done, I can’t futz with it and more, it’s out there and I can’t reel it back in for just one or a few thousand more tweaks.

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And then a professional garden writer and horticulturist named Nina Koziol called me up and interviewed me about the DGB for the Chicago Tribune newspaper and website and she didn’t once tell me that I got it all wrong, and we had a delightful chat about the wacky world of gardeners. . . so whew. Maybe I pulled it off.

17 days until pub date. March 1, y’all. I think I’ll send the day in bed.

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This is, so far, my No. 1 Favorite Flower Thing of 2016:

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This big-ass bouquet of my favorite flowers (Roses and Hydrangeas!!) was deposited on my doorstep on my b-day eve ALL FOR ME!!!

The card said only “From your fans everywhere” and Top Cat swears it wasn’t him which I believe because this came from a fancy florist  and Top Cat wraps my birthday presents in the weekly grocery store circular (so very colorful) so, to my Dear Readers and Fellow Flower Lovers, I thank you for this, and all your birthday wishes in the Comments last week — you are all my favorite part of turning 30 x 2. THANK YOU.

But you know what they say, even birthday girls have to clean cat boxes, so I was putting clean newspaper liners in the downstairs cat boxes last weekend when I came across this:

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It’s the December 25 edition of the New York Times. I don’t usually read The Arts section (like any sane American I have no interest in dance, theater, jazz, or the art world in general) so I missed this but Lo! I never thought I’d ever see The Crown of the Andes again!

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It is news to me that this crown is now on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan ( you can read all about it here). The last I heard of this South American knick-knack was in 1995, when I was a  VP at Christies in charge of Faberge and every other ridiculously expensive jeweled object that wasn’t actually jewelry. Due to professional ethics, I can’t tell you the details about the consignor and the sales terms, but I can tell you that The Crown of the Andes came to Christie’s in a very old, very tattered cardboard box after having been in storage — and not fancy storage — for decades. The lore around it was, to put it mildly, dubious.

So, since I was in charge of cataloguing the thing, I had to research both its provenance and its intrinsic value, that is, I had to ferret out its true backstory and I had to determine the material value of the gold work and the emeralds. I brought in a consultant gemologist to count and measure the 450-ish emeralds on this crown and the first thing he discovered was that the big center emerald was not the 50-carat monster that its consignor claimed; if memory serves, it was 19 carats, which is still huge for an emerald, but if you think you can tell someone that their 50-carat emerald in less than half that size and not have that person scream and yell and accuse you of being either incompetent or a swindler, you are sadly mistaken, my friends.

I see that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has catalogued that center emerald as 24-carats…well, maybe, maybe not. We auction house people tend to have  low opinions of the expertise of museum people. We had to deliver certifiable information to our customers or else we’d be sued; museum people only had to footnote their hypothesizes. However, in this case, as the emerald is mounted, taking its measurements requires some careful hypothesizing so I can concede that there is wiggle room when it comes to fixing a definitive carat weight. But 24 carats is at the top of what I would call an educated guess.

Anyhow. Christie’s made a huge PR campaign to get this crown sold, making a spiffy catalogue and inviting all kinds of international dignitaries, rich people, and media to come and get up close and personal with this object. This is the press conference we held at Christie’s old home on Park Avenue (they moved to Rockefeller Center in the later 1990s):

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Yes! There were TV crews there! The spokesman for Christie’s, who was my boss at the time, was a debonair Englishman who headed the Silver Dept. :

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His name is Christopher Hardtop and you can still see him from time to time on old re-runs of Antiques Roadshow. What an excellent person he was.

And this is me, standing next to him, looking more ghostly than the fair haired Englishman:

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It was my idea to put the crown on a circle mirror atop a plinth draped in black velvet.

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I remember my outfit clearly: I am 39 years old, the Faberge expert at a world renown auction house, wearing a thrift store skirt that was a little too big, a thrift store over-sized turtle neck sweater, and an old crochet bureau runner as a scarf because I’d seen a girl wear something like it in France in the 1970s and could never find the exact right old gossamer crochet thing so I substituted this bureau scarf because I thought it would still look OK.  I miss my auburn hair.

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Look at I, I’m Lady Di.

Note the fierce looking chap in the background, below (the one in the drawing):

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That’s the last Incan emperor, Atahualpa. He’s there because this crown came to us with the provenance that it had been the property of this fabled warrior, which I proved was nonsense once I researched the gold work, which was clearly a marriage of 16th and 17th century Spanish colonial goldsmithing, which we clearly stated in the catalogue. Remember: we’re legally liable for our assessments. But we kept the Atahualpa legend in the PR, because, you know, Inca.

The consignment material attached to this crown also claimed that it was displayed at the 1939 World’s Fair (the most famous of the World’s Fairs) but I researched archives and found that although the then-owners of the crown begged the Fair organizers to put it on display (I suspect to drum up interest in it, as they were trying to sell the damn thing), the crown never made the cut. And yeah, the consignor was pretty pissed about that, too, which is usually the case when you tell people an inconvenient truth, isn’t it?

This whole faux-World’s Fair provenance is why I read this sentence in the New York Times article (see the link) with interest: It was taken out of storage only for momentous occasions like [sic] the introduction of new Chevrolets in 1937 and the New York World’s Fair in 1939.

I think this is outstanding writing. This sentence is written in such a way that the reader is left with the gleaming impression  that the crown was at the spiffy  1939 World’s Fair, but close inspection reveals that the writer is only liable for the claim  that it was simply “brought out of storage”, which I can assure you, it was. Nicely done, Kathryn Shattuck.

BTW, I regretted that hair cut of 1995. I grew it out and by my 40th birthday I had a shoulder-length blonde do, which was a whole other regrettable set of circumstances.

This is a more representative picture of me as an auction house executive, in 1992, taken while I was doing an appraisal of an estate in New Orleans (the guy was a hoarder of expensive clocks, and this is how he lived):

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Yeah, my hair was that long, and yeah, I’m wearing my ex-boyfriend’s unlined khaki sports jacket, leggings, knee high boots, and a thrift shop cashmere sweater. It was November and that mansion had no heat.

I can’t tell you the value that Christie’s contracted to sell the Crown of the Andes for, but if you google Christie’s sale Crown of the Andes, you can watch the old tape on YouTube of the crown being hammered down for 2.2 million dollars and if you listen closely, you can hear the auctioneer mumble “Pass” at the end. The crown did not meet its reserve and we did not sell it. I wonder if the Met had to pony up the full asking price.

Oh well. Here is where I transition from this lengthy digression on my hair c. 1992-5 to something more relevant to today’s VivianWorld, which is indeed quite flowery. If you recall from last week’s post, I promised to paint this Squint view:

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This is the little brook called the Ru, which runs into Monet’s water garden and fills the famous lily pond there. Monet painted 250 pictures of the reflections of his flowers and the Normandy sky in the Ru, which is why I chose to isolate this particular view. I began by painting the clouds and the far shore, and putting masking fluid over the tree trunk:

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And then I painted the rest of the picture:

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I put more masking fluid over the painted surface here:

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And then I picked up the masking:

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OK, now I’m ready to pick up the masking on the tree trunk:

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With a small paint brush loaded only with clear water, I can go back over a painted area and “pick up” some dry paint — this is how I make “ripples” on what is supposed to be a watery surface:

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See the ripples in the upper edge?

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Even though I think that this is not the best Squint I’ve ever painted, I can say that painting in this small scale is very relaxing for me. This is my comfort zone — my instincts as a painter are perfectly suited for this tiny format.

But what I learned in illustrating my Damn Garden Book (Gardens of Awe and Folly) is that gardens often can not be Squinted at…they need to be stared at, perused, and contemplated. This means that I have to paint a wide-eyed landscape when I paint something like this:

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Oh, lordy, it is a struggle to put so much information in such a large space.

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But you know I’ll try and try and try again until I get it right, and I’ll show you all my trials and errors in detail. Also, according to the best predictions it looks like I’ll be breaking out the 2016 Champagne-O-Meter tomorrow, and I haven’t made my annual blue birthday cake yet, so I’m inviting you to my Blizzard Party when we all get together next week. See you here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NOTE: Yes, I did it again, I forgot to turn on the Comments button. But it’s on now, and I would love to hear from you! And now, back to the regularly scheduled blog:

The times call for a bold blue sky:

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“The times” being my upcoming birthday weekend in which I say farewell to my 50s without ever having been totally convinced that I ever left my 30s, and “the times” being the time I walked from the small town of Vernon to the much smaller town of Giverny (in May 2013, which I have not painted until now):

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I’m glad that I waited, and painted nine other gardens (for the DGB) before I tackled Monet’s garden (and environs) at Giverny. For one thing, I’ve gotten good at not painting clouds — once you get used to picking up watercolor with a bit of rolled-up paper towel, you never have to PAINT clouds … you non-paint them:

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For another thing about why I am glad I waited until now to “do” Monet/Giverny, since I did not use many Squints in my DGB it is a lot of fun to be playing with this format again. I’m happy to see that at my advanced age (I am now the very oldest I’ve ever been), I still have control of the fine motor skills I need to paint these very teeny-tiny poplars:

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Last week Dear Reader Kirra left a Comment about it being time to call the poor DGB by its real name — Gardens of Awe and Folly. I should explain that the reason I use the shortcut DGB (stands for Damn Garden Book) is because while a book is a work-in-progress I get extremely cranky — the damn thing refuses to write itself!!! — so I call it the Damn [fill in blank] to let it know who’s boss. Also, using an acronym is a great way to store Word files. Even tho I type on a Mac, I use the Microsoft word processing program, and I head each chapter file with DGB because it’s easy to type and is easy to spot in the clutter that is my Documents folder. So I mean no disrespect when I call this new work-in-progress book the NDB (stand for New Damn Book). It’s just a part of my process.

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BTW, I should also tell you that I used my trusty liquid masking fluid on the pic below, on the trunks of those trees that take up the center of this landscape — over which I paint the background foliage:

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I also used my white acrylic paint to dab in some leaves on that tree in the foreground, over which I am putting on a layer of bright green paint to make it pop:

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Another part of my process is the work I do on a work-in-progress while I sleep. Usually, while I am composing a book, I dream incessantly about running through mazes, searching and or fleeing through endless rooms in an abandoned house, climbing hills, and dashing though airports on the verge of missing a flight — in other words, the whole repertoire of anxiety dreams about not being up to the task at hand.

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But ever since I outlined this new book about Giverny, I dream of opening bureau drawers and finding a treasure chest of old Christmas decorations, of going into my closet and discovering ball gowns that I did not know I had, and of being on a train that glides through a library full of books that open themselves (and that look like board games, or holograms). So I feel pretty good about this New Damn Book.

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Last week Dear Reader Ann made this Comment (about how I changed the scale of several buildings to make them more prominent in y painting than they were in the real life reference photo): I never thought about taking artistic license to make the picture more appealing by making the buildings larger.

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I loved this Comment because it observed something important about the difference between what I do as an illustrator and what another painter would do as a fine artist. As an illustrator, I insist that my paintings contain information — in fact, I contrive to put as much information in my paintings as possible, even if that means exaggerating certain elements of the view or editing out other non-essential bits. Fine artists do not seem to be terribly interested in making art that contains any worthwhile information — have you seen the oeuvre of Mark Rothko?

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For this little Squint, I wanted the information to be all about the poplars, which is why I put them in the very center of the picture (and saved them for last — I knew that I was going to love painting this group of trees!!):

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I was lucky that the photo that I took of these trees was pretty perfect, so I did not have to fudge any details. It was such a pleasure to do this scene…and I think that in the end it turned out to be a very happy picture:

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And then there’s this photo…

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…which contains this Squint…

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…which I will have to warp just a bit in order for it to be as informative as I need it to be, and which I will paint for you next week during my first blog post as a — gasp — 60 year old.

 

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These cats, the very busy cats that live in my house rent free:

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None of these guys (Taffy, Cindy, Candy) helped me paint this:

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This is a scene I saw on an afternoon in May of 2013, when I was walking the 4 kilometers from the little ville of Vernon (in France) to the littler village Giverny (also in France). Most of you Dear Readers will see that, thanks to my viewfinder, I have located the Squint within this snapshot (above). (For more about my unbearable cute terminology, the link is here.)

Taking full advantage of my artistic license, I drew this landscape as was, except for making the farm houses much, much larger so they would feature more prominently in this Squint:

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At the urging of my dear Top Cat to keep it short, I will paint this scene for you while keeping my commentary to a minimum:

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I use a bit of rolled-up paper towel to blot up some of the blue paint to make clouds:

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I actually use two hands for this blotting operation but since I need my other hand to hold the camera, I’m faking it one-handed. But voila: I Haz Clowds:

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To make the wee background foliage I use my brush to dab-dab-dab-dab paint onto the paper. I took this picture to show you that I discovered that this crappy brush had a weird few bristles there at the end that were perfect for this itty-teeny-bitty-tiny dabbing operation — see? Sometimes cheap equipment comes in handy!!!

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OK, I promise to cut down on my word count from now on.

I haven’t painted since i turned in the manuscript for my DGB, Gardens of Awe and Folly, last June, so it felt marvelous, and a little like work, to be slathering the pigment again.

Foreground application of real watery paint:

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Ah…..my lovely little bleeds (wet-in-wet layering of paint) to make a soggy edge to this stream, which happens to be the Epte River):

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Here’s where I switch to my size-00 brush:

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Dab dab dab dab dab:

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I painted too many blades of weed grass here, and I needed to lighten it up. So when I screw up like this, I break out my trusty white acrylic paint to “white out” my error:

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And now I switch paints from my Windsor Newton to my Grumbachers, because I bet the chalkiness will look Goldilocks (“just right”) here:

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And now, all is done ‘cept for the shouting:

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And this is my view of the stream that runs into the Seine River in Haute Normandie:

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I’ve been ever so busy this past week… I also painted another view of my walk from Vernon to Giverny, also as a Squint…

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…because I am making a three-Squint page of pictures of the walk from Vernon to Giverny as part of my new book project!!

I would call it the Damn Giverny Book, but we already used DGB for my last book (the Damn Garden Book), so let’s call this one the NDB:

The New Damn Book.

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About which we will discuss soon, very soon my Dears.

For now, please enjoy this Not Too Damn Long post and have a wonderful weekend!

 

 

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I highly recommend Paris in December.

When I was there two weeks ago, the tourist crowds were almost non-exisitant so there was less camouflage for the natives to blend into. They were all over the place, doing adorable Parisian things, like walking their dog after school…

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…shopping for fabric at Tissus Reine (the best fabric store in all of Paris!)…

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…riding their scooters to appointments…

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Yes! Adult people are riding scooters in Paris! And the Rent-A-Bikes are still as popular as ever:

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And under the bare trees the sky was opened up for miles and miles (that’s the Canal St.-Martin below, looking south all the way to canopy of plane trees on the Boulevard Jules Ferry):

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This is the Quai du Louvre:

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All is calm, and all is bright.

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Especially the museums! I went to my favorite Paris Museum, the Musee Carnavalet, and it was almost empty.

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Yeah, that’s a selfie in a XVIIIeme drawing room in the museum, and I can see now why my husband doesn’t like my Ugg (they are actually Sketchers) boots. The really do give my feet a dorky proportion to the rest of my body (but oh, my…when you walk 12 miles a day on Paris pavements, there is NO BETTER encasement for the ten little piggies, I tell you).

I discovered other rooms — ROOMS! — of stuff I’ve never seen there before! The room where Proust composed A La Recherché du Temps Perdu:

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And the entire 1900 shop designed by Alfons Mucha (famous art nouveau illustrator) for the Parisian jeweler Georges Fouquet:

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It was such a sleepy day in the Musee Carnavalet that even the guards were not en grade. This one was drawing in his little sketchbook:

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And this one was reading his iPod, craftily hidden in the drawer of his desk there (same trick I used to pull in high school, only with an actual paperback book, probably The Unauthorized Biography of The Beatles, in algebra class):

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And THIS I never saw before:

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So now I know how they get those posters to hang inside those Morris Columns — cool!

And I also never saw THIS before…no, it isn’t the itty bitty Christmas tree in the window of this bar that  I passed every day and night that was right next door to my AirBnB room near the Opera (on the right bank, metro stop Opera)…

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The thing that I never saw before is the thing I saw only when I backed up into the street to get this picture (below) and saw it there, in the lower right corner of the bar:

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It was THIS!

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It is a lighted running fountain of water for the neighborhood pooches (in English?!) and I thought it was adorable.

And then I went to Giverny, and if you want to read about my weekend visit please stay with me (but you might want to get another cup of tea, just to make the story more mosey-able).

The famous garden at Giverny is not open for visitors in December, but I have already seen Claude Monet’s garden several many times already … I went to Giverny because I like Giverny very much and I wanted to see what there was of “Winter Interest” in the village. Turns out that there is plenty going on in Giverny (pop. 509) and I can only tell you about the half of it (because I know that you do not have all day to read this blog). So let’s begin with my BandB, Les Rouges Gorges:

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My room was rustic but very comfortable:

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And the resident cats were cuuuuuuute:

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It was close to 4 in the afternoon when I took my walk out into the country lanes of Giverny:

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I was of course thrilled with the color and views here, but sooner or later one’s stroll down the Chemin du Roy (King’s Lane) leads you to the back end of Monet’s garden:

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From this vantage point it is possible to shoot some pictures of Monet’s garden at rest, which I did just for you, Dear Readers.This is the allee, which wis usually covered in blooms, that bi-sects the flower garden and leads to the front door of Monet’s home:

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And here is a peek at the water garden…

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And this is a view of the famous arched bridge over his lily pond (far right):

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The wisteria that cloaks this bridge in romantic petals of lavander during high season is, in December, just a tangle of hibernating vine:

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Giverny is such a small village that the folks who live here would have to go to Vernon ( 4 kilometers away) to get bread and croissants, so the BIG news this year is all about the new boulangerie that opened!

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It’s at 73 rue Claude Monet (easy address to remember) and the food and the ambience is excellent (note to self: must review this on Yelp, so that everyone who goes to Giverny in season will stop by here for lunch and make this place successful). I see that you’ve noticed the cat in this photo. That’s Fifi. I got to know her when I came back here for the special Saturday night Diner Spectacle:

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Wine, food, and song…

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… and if you’re lucky…CAT:

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The Madame La Soprano is a music teacher from the village, married to an elected official in Giverny:

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Monsieur Le Baritone sings for the Rouen Opera:

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Sunday was full of more wonderful social gatherings in private people’s homes (the Givernois are such friendly people!) but the next public spectacle I attended was an afternoon party of the kids of Giverny, held in the Impressionism Museum (which is also closed for the season, but open for local functions). I loved the kid who brought his panda bear with him when he went on stage to help the magician with her trick:

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Then my friends took me to the Town Hall to vote!!!!

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It’s normal for the French to vote on a Sunday, and it’s normal to hold these regional elections every five years (for the National Assembly). But it was very unusual this year to hold elections with the National Front (think: Trump, only more so) as a strong third party.

When you go to vote in such a small village as Giverny, you get your voting card stamped by the officials, and then you go around kissing hello to all the poll watchers that you know as neighbors. Then you pick up your ballots, go into a curtained stall, choose the ballot for the party you want to vote for, fold it up, and put it into a little blue envelope. Then you put your little blue envelope into a clear box:

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When the clock struck 6, it was time to count the votes.

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There wee two people opening each envelope and handing the ballot to the mayor (that’s him, with the beard). He reads out the name, and the head tally-man reads out the count after each vote, which has to agree with the count being recorded by two back-up tally-ladies.

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I was fascinated by this process, and my friends were tolerant and let me watch this go on for half an hour. I stood off to one side, snapping photos, and no one gave me so much as half a stink-eye, which is amazing when you consider that it’s illegal in France to take the photo of anyone without their permission, even on the street.

The day before, I’d been in Vernon’s Christmas village, and I snapped a photo of this:

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And I got a polite, and joking, but definitely serious, scolding for it.

Anyway, by the time we left the vote-count at Village Hall to get ready for a diner party, the center-right candidate was leading, and the left candidate was making a close showing, but the big surprise was that the National Front was polling a very very strong third, despite my friends (split evenly, two for the right-center/two for the left) assuring me that the National Front could never win a seat in Normandy.

The final results, with  75.25% of eligible voters taking part in the election, were:

Center-right: 42%

Left: 30%

National Front: 27%

Blank votes: 1%

How exciting!

Anyhow, Top Cat is going to mention to me again that my blog posts are too long, so I’d better stop here, for now…because don’t we all have some champagne that needs to be taste-tasted before the arrival of 2016??? And shouldn’t we be getting to it right now???

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I love to watch the tiny bubbles rise in candlelight.

Happy Saturnalia, everyone.

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I very rarely get the idea to flit off to France for a quick five-day visit. In fact, for me, not being of the Taylor Swift branch of the family and all, it’s pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime kind of whim. But that very thought crossed my mind recently, and that’s how I found myself in Paris last Friday, going “Huh?”

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Paris in its holiday bling can be perplexing.

The famous department store Galleries Lafayette went with a “Christmas From Another Planet” theme this year…yeah, I don’t get it either…and they went all out to put up a huge Cosmic Christmas Tree in the center of their main floor, under their famous stained-glass rotunda:

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I think those are supposed to be either atoms, or planets, or carbuncles of silicone-based life forms, bubbling on the surface of the cone/Christmas tree-shaped object:

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You might already know how this store was constructed around that enormous open space in the center — which means that you can gander at the Cosmic Christmas Tree from every  floor:

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Dyed mink from Fendi:

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Yeah…I don’t get that either.

Down the road from the Galleries, the other famous department store of Paris — Printemps — was celebrating its 150th year in business:

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The interior of Printemps only allows for a three-story exhibit, which includes a mock-up of the store’s facade…

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…and a traditional Xmas tree — bedecked with this large, bug-eyed metallic creature with a flower-like pustule growing out of its head:

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It is in typical French earthiness that this creature’s head-canker includes globules in the exact color of pus. That mutant Pillsbury Dough Boy is the mascot of Printemps 150. Do you sense that the running theme of this post is “I don’t get that either“?

The outside of Printemps is laden with the flowers that have, presumably, been exploded out of the craniums  of millions of metallic mutants:

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Under this canopy of blossoms are the store’s famous Xmas windows, each one sponsored by a fashion brand. This is the Burberry window (note the sneakers on the kid on the right — and the antenna on his hat!):

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In France, sneakers are called baskets. When you think about it, calling them baskets is not a whole lot dopier than calling these kinds of shoes sneakers.

This window is Sonya Riekyl:

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Those little dolls moved like go-go dancers. Very Christmasy, you think?

Guess where the other grand explosion of Xmas cheer is? Here’s a hint:

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Right: The Champs Ulysses!

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These Christmas Villages run almost the whole length of the Champs — and if you look real closely at the background (below) behind these ice skaters (there were several rinks set up on the sidewalk of the Champs Ulysses — how cool is that??)  you’ll see the REAL Eiffel Tower, lit up like gold:

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In general, though, Christmas decorations in Paris are rather low key. I was sure that the ultra-luxury shops around the Place Vendome would be all a-glow for the make-or-break shopping season, but I was wrong:

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Yes it’s tasteful, but I like to be WOWed. Here’s some other random decor I found along my ambles in the City of Light:

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That last picture was taken in the Canal Saint-Martin area, at a cafe called La Bonne Biere:

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At the Bonne Biere on November 13, ISIS killed five people.

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The cafe has recently re-opened in defiance: Je Suis en Terrasse I am on the Terrace — is how Parisians mock the terrorists with their joie de vivre (which includes cafe culture…sitting out in the open, on terraces). I made it a point to have lunch at the Bonne Biere because, although I do not like sitting out on the sidewalk (it’s the smoking section, now that you can’t light up indoors any more), to give my personal Fuck You to ISIS.

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La Bonne Biere serves decent, 2-star pub food. I just wish the pasta hadn’t come garnished with dandelion greens. Even when you push them aside, they leave trace bitterness on the plate. It’s a Princess and the Pea situation. I have the same problem with cucumbers. Just can’t stand them.

Yes, there is still a make-shift shrine to the innocents of November 13 in front of the Bonne Biere…

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…but the main shrine to all 129 innocents is at the Place de la Republique:

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Meme pas PeurStill Not Afraid — is playground French, something that kids say to a call the bluff of a bully; it’s like blowing a raspberry in ISIS’ face. It’s also very silent and sad here, the way I remember it was on certain street corners in New York City after 9/11. All those innocents…yeah; I just don’t get it either.

Ah, Paris. Beautiful and beguiling even on an ordinary day on the cusp of Winter…

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Just goes to show you that Paris does’nt need the glitz of Xmas in order to shine…

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…she already, and always, glows, just being herself.

OMG, look at the time, it’s getting late and I haven’t even told you about the real reason I went to France. Well, Dear Readers, that will have to wait until we meet here again, next Friday!

 

 

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As we all know, there’s the fantasy of Giverny…

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…and then there’s the reality:

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New Yorker magazine cover of June 5, 2000 by the great illustrator Ian Falconer.

 From April to October Monet’s garden at Giverny is open seven days a week and half a million “culture tourists” make the pilgrimage to this tiny village to see the famous Japanese bridge:

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When I was there last month the wisteria on what is called the “superstructure” of the bridge was just starting to bloom…

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…but the famous water lilies don’t blossom until late July. Since except for bullfrogs calling to each other there was nothing of interest going on in the water, I spent my time watching people take in The Most Famous Japanese Bridge in France:

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And then I went exploring in Giverny. I took a walk down the main drag of the village (pop. 505) called, of course, Rue Claude Monet. At the far end of the long wall that keeps Monet’s houses secluded on Rue Claude Monet there is a big green door…

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…which is Monet’s old garage door, where he used to pull in his Panhard Lavassor that he bought in 1900. I know! I can’t picture Monet driving a car either!   As you continue your mosey thorugh the village on the Rue Claude Monet you pass picturesque houses…P1160440

…and the tourist information center and the Impressionist Museum of Giverny  that used to be called The Museum of American Art in honor of all the Americans who flocked to this village to paint with the Master from 1880 – 1926:

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Nice restaurant, very nice gardens, bijoux collection.

And then you get to the main hub of social life in Giverny the Baudy Hotel…

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…where all Monet’s American acolytes used to hang out in olden times and where they are still doing a bang-up business serving lunch and diner and tea.

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In the Petit Galerie Baudy, right there at the Baudy Hotel, there is a storefront where Monsieur Frederic Desessard works, a miniaturist after my own heart:

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He very kindly let me photograph him painting his latest tableaux (he does not usually allow photographs of him at work):

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And he then showed me how he paints with a toothpick:

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Here he’s putting the finishing touches on his copy of one of the rare Monet paintings of his flower garden ( if you want to see the original it’s in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris) and has finished one of the 18 similar views of the Japanese bridge that Monet painted between 1899 and 1900 (see: the top of this post). The portrait of Camille Monet  that M. Desessard has beautifully reproduced is in the National Gallery in Washington D.C.

I asked to buy one of these miniatures but M. Desessard told me that he doesn’t sell his paintings, he uses them for the tiny 3D tableaux he makes and sells in his shop.

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Photo by Jean-Michel Peers — to see more follow the link below — read on!

Hmmmmm…I think I just got my inspiration for my Giverny Triscuit...

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You can find the finished Triscuit at the end of this post.

Anyhoo, If you are going to Giverny, you can’t miss M. Desessard…

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Photo by Jean-Michel Peers.

…right on the main drag, at 81 Rue Claude Monet. The French photographer Jean-Michel Peers has graciously permitted me to show you his photos of M. Desessard at work on his miniatures — click onto this link here to see more, and to check out Jean-Michel’s portfolio of wonderful historical photos of Giverny and of Monet’s garden too.

But we, you and me, dear readers, have not finished out our wanderings there. We are going to go further down Rue Claude Monet to the 15th century church of Sainte Radegonde

P1160765…to pay respects to the seven WWII British airmen who are fondly remembered by the people of Giverny; their Lancaster bomber crashed nearby in 1944 and the village honors them with this grave:

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British visitors to Giverny leave English coins here.

We will take a walk around the churchyard to the side area where we’ll will find the beautiful grave of Gerald Van der Kemp, the man responsible for restoring Monet’s gardens:

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Mr. Van der Kemp lies next to the Monet family grave, the resting place of the Master himself (along with various family members):

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Few of the day trippers who come to Giverny bother to make the walk up to Eglise Sainte Radegonde…and it’s not even “off the beaten track”! To really get Off The Beaten Track, you have two choices. You can get out of town on the D5:

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Yes, we are going to walk 4 km to Vernon!

In which case you will walk along the banks of the River Epte…

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…on the path takes you past the secluded studio where the American artist (and Monet’s next door neighbor in Giverny)  Frederick Carl Frieseke got the privacy he needed to paint his favorite subject, naked ladies sunbathing. The house used to be home to a community of monks who bred fish to stock the local rivers…

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…but do not go fishing in the Epte or the Ru unless you’ve paid your 89 euro license fee :

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This is the Epte, which flows into the Seine. The River Ru is a branch of the Epte and it’s the Ru that flows into Monet’s pond in his water garden.

That red signposted on that tree announces that this area is under the control of the Fédération de l’Eure pour la Pêche et la Protection du Milieu Aquatique. You can look them up. France has strict fishing protections on all its streams, brooks, creeks, and rivers.

Other sights along the D5:

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Does anyone know what this is? Monique — can you explain your people’s strange foreign ways?

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And that’s how you get to Vernon as the lone pedestrian on the D5.

Your other choice of getting Off The Beaten Path is to take Rue Claude Monet alllllllllll the way to the end of town…

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…and find the bike path….

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…that is easier to walk on than the D5 and “busier” (this is where all those people who rent bikes at the Vernon train station go, but it’s still pretty deserted) and nearly quite as scenic…

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…and when you get to Vernon on this route…

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…there is this:

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The sign says: Attention au chat. You don’t see the chat? He’s there! He’s right there:

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Now, if you really want to get Off The Beaten Track in Giverny…

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…all you have to do is take the foot path that starts where the Rue du Chateau d’Eau ends and climb…

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…until you find the perfect picnic spot…

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Looks like a Plebicula dorylas to me. My guide to French butterflies calls this color “sky blue”. I thought it was a wildflower at first, then I saw it was an elegant French insect.

…where you can sit and plan your next visit to Giverny (maybe walk that highway  all the way to Sainte-Genevieve-les-Gasny?):

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I thought I would be finished with Giverny with this post, having told as many stories about my visit as my dear readers have the patience for…but no, I have one more piece of business. I have a Giverny Triscuit to give away!

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Seeing M. Desessard’s copies of famous Monet paintings gave me the urge to do something I’ve never done before: COPY. So here it is, My Monet:

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And that’s why we call it a Triscuit.

If you would like to give a home to this original watercolor Giverny Triscuit, please leave a Comment below before the Comments close on midnight June 26 and, as usual, Top Cat will pick a winner totally at random, to be announced when we all get together again next Friday.

This was fun, copying one of the most iconographic works of art of the 20th century. I think I’d like to do it again. Anybody got any suggestions for another Masterpiece Triscuit???

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I promised Top Cat that I WOULD NOT DIGRESS this week (he says my posts are getting waaaay toooo loooooong) while I take you to Monet’s famous garden in Giverny (Normandy, France).

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I promise to Keep It Short since my previous reports (last week and the week before) on my recent visit to France have been rather wordy and some readers [Top Cat] say I make it toooooo looooong toooo reeeeeeed. So I’m cutting my three-day exploration of All Things Monet in Giverny down to this one post, probably. But pardon me while I set the scene:

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For my first two nights I stayed at a marvelous B&B called Le Coin des Artists, which used to be a cafe/grocery in Monet’s day:

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The Breakfast part of the B&B was quite wonderful (see: below… those are the same chairs that you’ll find in Monet’s dining room at Giverny and there was always Katie Melua on the CD player. I highly recommend starting your Giverny days hearing Katie Melua sing “Closest Thing to Crazy”   and eavesdropping on the Belgian couple talking about the high price of French toll roads compared to the ones in Belgium but I’m not telling you that story because I Will Not Digress).

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And ahhhhhh!! The Bed part of this B&B was heavenly! I really missed my Top Cat when I saw my room because nothing is more romantic than a fauteuil, n’est-ce pas?

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Fauteuil only means “armchair” even tho it sounds kind of dirty.

The windows of my room looked out into the courtyard:

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In the evening in this same courtyard the delightful hostess at Le Coin des Artistes, Madame Laurence Pain, serves chilled Loire Valley wine with the resident chow (see below: those orange protuberances at the end of the table are chow ears):

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I could tell stories about the dogs of Giverny, who seem unable to contain their curiosity and excitement  to be in the company of such world travelers as  moi...

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…or the cats of Giverny ,who don’t

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…except for this little girl (below) who must be part Siamese for all the talking she did here in Giverny’s “Medieval Quarter”, which consists of one rue…called Rue aux Juifs (Street of Jews) if you can believe it…

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…but I will not digress!!!  Neither can I tell you about the many stone walls I had to climb to snoop  into courtyards that are hidden from the street, such as this one (below) where they hide Monet’s so-called “Blue House” where he used to grow his vegetables…

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…but Non! Non! I will not digress! We are here today to visit the Monet’s garden at Giverny, so let’s get to it:

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This is the map (above) at the entrance to the garden — they do not sell or give away maps of the garden when you pay your 9 euro ($12.50) to get into the garden, which I was telling the young Canadian couple on line with me, who were on the second day of their 6-week driving tour of France  (so they took an iPad photo of this wall map to take with them) and then the guy, whose hobby is geology, wondered what kind of rocks this was in the wall because to a rock hound the world is one big rock puzzle, to whom I said well, if you like rocks and you have a car you  should go see one of the Wonders of the World (rock-wise) at Mont St-Michel close by here in Normandy and they said “Mont What?” etc. but I Will Not Digress

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…although you see the guy with the dog (above) on the typically looooooong line to buy entrance tickets: Yeah, me too, I asked myself, “What kind of nincompoop brings a dog to Monet’s garden???” but I saw him later  outside the garden sitting with the dog and I offered to watch the pup while he went inside but he said no thank you, it’s his wife who wanted to see the garden — they have been here before as they often sail their boat from England and moor it on the Seine in Vernon (closest town to Giverny on the Seine ) which goes to show you that people have the most surprising stories if you take the time to chat… but I Will Not Digress… Let’s get to the GARDEN!!!

This is what you see after you enter the garden through the gift shop and pass the lavatories:

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Those are espalier’d apple trees IN BLOSSOM!!! and the sign that points to “House” is of course pointing to Monet’s famous pink house:

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I timed my visit to the garden so that I’d get there at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and yes, it was still plenty crowded.

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But I like crowds. In case you haven’t guessed, I like talking to people when I travel because, well, I’m a professional travel writer and in order to write about travel I need stories. What better way to get them than to get people to tell me theirs? Like this mother/daughter pair (below) I helped because they didn’t speak French and the ladies working in the gift shop are, excuse me for saying, kind of snotty, but I Will Not Digress:

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And I LOVE Chinese tourists because they wear the best hats:

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And for the most part, even tho it’s crowded,  people are aware of other people trying to get a Monet Garden picture and do not walk right into your shot…

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…but not always. And then, if you’re me, you hope that someone with an outrageously fab Monet-Garden-Visiting-Outfit steps into view…

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How the gardeners work amidst such teeming humanity I don’t know…

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…although I trailed two women gardeners who were pulling off the dead tulip heads with such a delicate manouvre that I was entranced by their gentle touch but I Will Not Digress

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But let us rejoice that some people, even in the madding crowd, are able find their private moments…

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…which I, as your typical Nosey Parker…

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…am only too happy to butt in on. But here’s my redeeming feature: I am the person who, when I see young couples taking “selflies” in places like Monet’s garden, I walk up and I ask “Would you like me to take your picture?” and then I art-direct them so that I get great shots of them in situ (I’m great at setting a scene and getting informative background) and I even tell them “Go on, kiss!” and they DO because I have that kind of trustful face and all.

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Monet Garden at Giverny Travel Tip No. 1: If you hang around past 5 o’clock, all the day trippers leave and the place becomes very empty and even the guards are so happy that the day is almost over that they relax their eagle eyes and go MIA so there is no one to yell at you for taking pictures of the rooms…

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…so you can stand in Monet’s bed chamber and snap away all you want (photos of furniture are forbidden!)…

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…and there isn’t the usual looong line to get the permitted photo out of Monet’s window…

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…so you can take in the view that Monet himself woke up to. I usually try to get people in my photos of landscape so you can gauge the scale so…Merci, straggler tourists who are in my picture of the overcast skies of Giverny at 5:30 May 10, 2013:

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I want to live like Alice Monet and see a garden like this when I walk out of my kitchen.

This (below) is Monet’s other bedroom window seen from the ground (the house is very narrow) , part of a series of pictures that I took of all the edges all around his garden property because you never see that part of his garden but I Will Not Digress:

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I like this picture because it catches the wind that blew in from the depths of Normandy all through Giverny, fluttering the tulips and the tourists:

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So. Here I am, the next day, enjoying a lunch of hard boiled egg and baguette sandwich (which I made from breakfast items at the B&B) after trudging to the top of the hill that looms high above Giverny…

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…when through the telephoto lens of my camera I peer unto the Jardin de Monet in the valley below…

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…and I see that the D5 (a local highway that in this bend in the road is grandly called Chemin du Roy — King’s Way ) runs right past Monet’s garden. This road is built on the old railway line that bi-sects Monet’s property — his famous Water Garden is on the far side of the D5 there. And I think to myself  This I gotta see  but I have nine hours of DIGRESSION to achieve before I check out this Chemin du Roy from ground level:

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It’s 8 o’clock in the evening and I am the only soul walking along this stretch of highway…

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…where you can  see the paradise that is Monet’s garden, big as you please!  Without paying 9 euro!

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The only barrier here is a spike fence and some scraggly shrubs:

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All you have to do is walk up to the fence and stick your camera between the fence railings and you get the most beautiful scenes of an empty garden…

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…and vistas that are just not available to you when you are actually IN the garden with the hoards of tourists :

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I loved being here, in this silent and lonely twilight…

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…taking photos of the landscape that really makes much more sense from this perspective:

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These are the famous “paintbox” beds of flowers that oh! Made me tremble with pleasure seeing them like this (as compared to seeing them from inside):

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You can not get a better shot of the alley than this, from outside the garden walls:

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It helps that Normandy is so far north…

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…that you still get the gentle evening twilight…

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…that best illuminates the spritely colors of flowers…

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…so much better than daytime sunlight:

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Amazing, right?

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Monet Garden at Giverny Travel Tip No. 2: Walk along the D5 after closing hours in Giverny and have this impossibly beautiful garden all to yourself. I did not see another soul the whole time I lurked here. This last picture, you can see, is blurry, which told me that I was losing the light…

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…so I walked back into town,  to Rue Claude Monet, the main drag of Giverny…

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…and I wished I weren’t so far from home…

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The next day I paid my last visit to Monet’s garden. (I also moved to the town’s only hotel which I did not like so I Will Not Digress further.) It was sunny, which is not so great for photographing flowers so I will only show you this picture (below), which shows the hill on which I sat when I got my bird’s eye view of dear Giverny (that white boxy thing in the background is a pumping station that you will pass half-way on your climb to the top):

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This is the last photo that I took of the garden…Farewell, Giverny:

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I know that we did not get to the famous lily pond in Monet’s famous Water Garden in this post so I’ll have to show that to you next week when I’ll have a Giverny Triscuit for you, which I did not paint this week because  I’ve been very busy making sure that the backyard cats aren’t dead :

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That’s only Bibs, who looks dead but he’s just snoozing under Oscar’s watch.

And keeping an eye out so that the indoor cats don’t kill each other :

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That’s Cindy, glaring up at Taffy who is hogging her chair.

But we still have the Paris Triscuit to give away!

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And the Triscuit goes to…Jen A.!!!  Congratulations to a long time reader of this blog who recently sent me hummingbird feathers to add to my collection — you have never seen feathers soooooo small and so sparkly as hummingbird feathers but I Will Not Digress, no sir, not meThat’s for next week!

 

See you next time under the wisteria!

 

 

 

 

 

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Paris is not Nashville.

In Nashville, when people see you point a camera in their direction they do this:

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I miss you, Nashville!

In Paris, when they see you point a camera in their directon, they do this:

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Yeah, that’s a hairy eyeball.

And at my house, when you point a camera in the backyard, you get this:

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That’s Taffy, inspecting the airing-out of the patio chair cushions. Good job, Taffs.

Yes, we had a few days of sunshine here on the Isle of Long but have no fear! This is still the crappiest Spring ever — we’re getting the blow-back from Tropical Storm Andrea this weekend so yay! More rain! (Maybe that’s what’s keeping the cicadas at bay? So far, we haven’t heard a peep from the little monsters yet. So I say, Rain On!)

I hope you all had a peaceful and grateful  D-Day yesterday. Top Cat and I raised a glass of French champagne in homage to our WWII heroes: We Will Never Forget.

Anyhoo. Back to the story of the day, which is how hard it is to take reference photos in Paris…it almost makes me want to turn into a pleine aire painter.

It’s not just Parisians’ stern sense of privacy in public places that makes photographing them so hard. It’s also their No-Se’em policy towards anybody who might look like a tourist (including middle aged ladies in tennis shoes holding a camera a/k/a moi). See here (below) how I almost had a great shot of a bunch of Parisian teens being all European (smoking and drinking coffee in a cafe), except for the un-seeing pedestrian who ruined it:

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For those of you who can’t stand these loooong posts, skip to the end to find the Paris Triscuit!

Well, I REALLY wanted this picture so I gave it another try:

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I hate to say that I took this shot two more times and never got what I wanted. Oh well, when you only have a split second to get the picture you gagne some and you rate some. (Both those words have grave accents on the end, which I can’t find on this keyboard, merde.)

On the street, some people just plain move in on your shot AND WILL NOT GO AWAY:

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I almost got a picture of these ladies counting out change to pay the tab for their afternoon glass of wine. It could have been a cute shot.

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Really? You didn’t see me standing here with a camera up to my face before you stepped in front of me you twit?

Often, people (even little old ladies using canes) are just too fast for me to catch:

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Or they seem to be holding a pose for ever so long, only to stick up an elbow just when I click the shutter:

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Taking photos from behind just isn’t my thing:

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No, when Paris street fashion catches my eye I aim for full frontal. Last month it was c-o-l-d in Paris in May so women were wearing wonderful coats; it seemed that in Paris everyone has a coat that made a statement about style, wealth, taste, self-image, etc…not warmth. I loved this white coat that I saw getting up from the sidewalk at my daily cafe — white, with two big buttons on top and cut-away to show the outfit underneath with slash pockets and wide sleeves, but I couldn’t get her to show it off! I kept snapping away, but all I ever got was a profile:

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Another day, another cafe and this coat had audacious ruffles at the collar and the hem but I couldn’t get to my camera fast enough and just as I clicked the shutter, she turned to leave the cafe.

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I’m so glad that I got this beauty! Now, THIS is a fashion statement:

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I followed this lovely businesswoman, who was walking her dog one morning, for 15 minutes all the way through the Place Dauphine and this is the best picture I got of her big wooly scarf and bright yellow jacket and gauzy skirt, but you can still se how well she is put together:

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Nice red shoes:

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This lady passed me on one side of the street and I noticed her intricately knotted scarf so I ran around and scurried up on the other side of the sidewalk to get ahead of her and try to catch her unawares but I think she saw me coming:

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I took this picture through the window of a boulangerie, just trying to catch people in their normal bread-buying habitat:

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I was just passing through the Canal St-Martin neighborhood when I saw this little duck, paddling all by herself in the wide water, and I wondered if she was lonely:

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Then I noticed the girl in the raspberry-colored beret with the faintly Russian-looking overcoat, who was standing on the edge of the canal, staring at the lone duck just as I was:

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Then the duck swam out of sight but she kept standing there, staring into the water and I wondered if she was depressed and thinking about doing an Anna Karenina so I followed her when she strolled up to the famous foot bridge over the canal and sat down with her feet dangling close to the cold water. I kept my eye on her for about ten minutes, ten long minutes (time drags when you’re on stake out) and then I decided that I wasn’t going to say anything to her (“Hello there, are you going to kill yourself? “) so I might as well mosey on.

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I have a philosophy about depression. Depression is boring. People get depressed over the same predictable things, often for good reason. Happiness, however, is so unusual and so counter-intuitive that it is fascinating. So when I’m faced with a choice between the two, I go for happiness. So I went in search of funner stuff. Crossing off items on my  looooong To Do list for Paris made me happy, so I went off to find the store in the 9th Arrondissement that is famous for its doll house furniture.

Along the way I came across this fetching coat in the 6th Arr.  Shop windows!! So easy!!!

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Can you believe that I found a Redingote for sale??

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Also, I had never heard of a cache-coeur (hide-the-heart) so this piqued my interest. It’s a real thing.  You can read about it here.

Yes, it’s easy to find great fashion in Paris…

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…in all the chic neighborhoods…

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…Rue de Rivoli, St-Germaine des Pres, Avenue Wagram…

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…Monmartre. Yes, MONMARTRE! All these dresses are from my favorite fabric store, Reine — specifically, the remnants department!

P1170431Yes, all these fabulous frocks were made simply by draping fabric remnants (coupons in French). Wonderful texture juxtapositions, frolicsome pattern match-ups, surprising color combinations…I have so much to learn about style, and Paris has so much to teach me.

Which reminds me: I bought one book in Paris about that other thing I have so much to learn about:

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It’s a vintage childrens’ bookcalled Studies of Drawing and Watercolor and I bought it because I also have a lot to learn about aquarelle, n’est-ce pas?  This book is like a coloring book for watercolors — fun, eh?

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And you know why this book is so perfect for me? Guess!

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Right: it’s Triscuit sized!

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So naturally  I was inspired to do a special Paris Triscuit for my dear readers (see above).  Yes, dear ones, you can win this original hand-painted  Paris Triscuit:

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All you have to do is leave a Comment to this post before next Wednesday (when the Comments section will close) and Top Cat will pick a number at random and I’ll announce the winner next week.

Oh, just one little thing. In order to be eligible for this original, hand-painted Paris Triscuit you must have left a Comment for me in this blog within the last four weeks (while I was traveling, when my true blue readers kept in touch!! Thank you!!! Comments are the only way I will ever ask you to pay for anything on this blog. Yay for me!).

And for those who are new to this blog: I still haven’t taken you (in this blog)  to Monet’s garden at Giverny yet…

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…soooooo you don’t know that there isn’t a Giverny Triscuit in the future, and you definitely want to throw in a Comment to get your eligibility for that. Right?

You never know what I’ll be painting next…

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…so you don’t want to miss it!

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This is how I started almost every day that I was in Paris these past two weeks:
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I would go to my local cafe and have a nice little pot of tea with tartine (buttered baguette with jam) and plan my day’s outings with the aid of my outstanding booklet of detailed maps of Paris’ 20 arrondissements, while trying my best to eavesdrop on the colorful regulars. On only my third morning here…

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…at Le Nesle brasserie on the tiny dead-end Rue de Nesle in the 6th arrondissement…

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…(I never had an evening snack here, only breakfast) the sweet bartender knew that I liked my tea sweet and he automatically put six extra sugar cubes on my saucer.  I really enjoyed the crowd at the Nesle (pronounced “Nell” when you’re talking to French people, but pronounced “Nestle” when you’re talking to yourself).

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One day the boys were trying to remember the name of the actor who played Columbo on TV. Another day they were talking about how few French people went to the Champs Elysees to watch the President lay a wreath under the Arc de Triomph in honor of VE Day this year:

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I like it that street cleaners pop in at Le Nesle for a cup of espresso between rues:

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And I really like it when Bobo shows up:

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Bobo runs into Le Nesle as if the Le Nesle is THE BEST PLACE EVER FOR A DOG TO BE!!!!!!!! and he sniffs everyone at the bar, accepting Good Morning pats from his fans, and then he follows his owner outside to a table on the sidewalk:

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That’s a good place to say Bonjour to friends and neighbors passing by:

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It is against the law to smoke inside a cafe in Paris, so smokers have to sit out on the sidewalk…

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…which is why I did not sit outside, ever, at any cafe in Paris even thought that meant I missed sitting with Bobo and his human. Also, it was mostly cold and drizzly while I was in Paris and I like to be warm and dry.

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Away from Le Nesle, my very top highest Tea Priority was to make a visit to Mariage Freres, the Brothers Mariage, known as the Princes of French Tea, in the 4th arrondissement:

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The fragrance of adventure and poetry endlessly pervade each cup of tea, worte Henri Mariage, one of the brothers who founded Marriage Freres in 1854.

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This shop, at 30-32 Rue de Bourg-Tibourg, is deliberately old-fashioned in its operations as both a tea retailer and as a Salon de The.

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The staff, which is young, male, and dressed in white linen suits, gives you a tea-buying experience straight out of the 19th century.

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Upstairs, there’s even a little Tea Museum.

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The decor of the Marriage Salon de The is totally J. Peterman Colonial…

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…with lots of wicker and rattan and palms…

 

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…with the Art Deco clock that says it’s always Tea Time:

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The tea menu is eight pages long…

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…but I already knew what I wanted:

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My pot of Vanille des Isles came with a book about L’Art Francois du The in case I wanted to cram on The French Art of Tea while my Vanilla of the Islands steeped. I got a kick out of the little shovel in the sugar bowl, and the sugar that looked like teeny bits of rock candy. What can I say? I was born in Montana, so some part of me will always be a hick.

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The service was very professional, not warm but not condescending either, and nobody reprimanded me with their typically French horror of being photographed in a public place  until after I’d already got all the photos I wanted anyway. There are actual laws in France forbidding people to take photos of people in public places without their permission, and I hardly ever ask permission — especially if I think they will say Non. This attitude of mine irritates some French people’s last nerve, which I soothe by  apologizing in fluent French while giving them a big dumb American smile. Now, you might be surprised to learn this, but there are some French people who do not give photo-happy American tourists a break because they are just out-and-out snots and I know this for a fact because I had to travel all the way out to the “seedy” 19th arrondissement to bring you this tea story:

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This is the boulangerie at 83 Rue de Crimee of award-winning female baker Veronique Mauclerc:

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From a review in Elle magazine: This neighborhood boulangerie is killer [awesome]! In particular, their caramel pastry is worth the trek [to the “seedy 19th arrondissement]. It’s my Proustian experience. I’d go back on a scooter just for those caramels. Or something close to that.

In her so-called Salon de The, Veronique Mauclerc offers a degustation (tasting menu) of her breads (it’s spelled out right there, on her ardois/blackboard) for about $15:

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When I arrived at 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, there wasn’t a single customer in the shop but the middle-aged sales person, standing with her hands clasped behind her back, still seemed overworked as she wearily answered my inquiry as to the possibility of partaking of a degustation. After some pointed questioning on my part I got her to admit that yes, they do serve tea and bread in the salon, which she indicated by a flip of her shoulder was in the back of the shop.

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The Salon de The is a single  wooden table in a hallway between the shop and the oven — one of only four remaining traditional wood-burning bread-baking ovens left in Paris. The couple shown here were just finishing their coffee and rolls and were very gracious about making room for me while they gathered their things to leave. The place was now empty except for me, the customer, and the passive-agressive shop assistant.

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It was while I was photographing this famous wood-burning bread-baking oven that I heard the shop assistant mumble something about “photographie”. That’s right: she literally said it behind my back. So I put the camera away and settled into a chair, awaiting my own Proustain experience with France’s most famous female bread maker. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And it dawns on me that I’m being iced. I have transgressed the unwritten law of Paris snots, Thou Shalt Not Be American, and I’m never getting service, no matter how long I wait, or if I do I can’t be sure there won’t be spit in my tea.

So I gather my things and walk to the front of the shop and I say to the shop lady, in English “I guess it’s too inconvenient for you to do your job, bitch,” and I leave. I head to the metro station and as I turn the corner I see this:

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It’s busy and noisy and fast-paced…

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…the shop assistants are very helpful in answering customer questions about the types of bread they make on the premises and as I wait to pay for my pain chocolate I see that the ovens are behind the glass wall and they are just about to roll in a tray of baguettes. I say OH! Les baguettes! And I raise my camera…

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…and the shop assistant yells to the baker: “Yannick! the lady wants to take your picture!” And Yannick goes:

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I take the photo and I holler to Yannick, in English, “Thank you!” And Yannick waves back and calls out: “Sank you!”

Artisan Boulanger Bio, 62 Rue d’Hautpoul. Yo, Veronique Maclerc: This is how you run a bakery, bitch.

When I went for tea at the famous Cafe Le Select on the Boulevard Montparnasse that forms the border between the 6th and the 14th arrondissements…

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…the head waiter showed me where I could find Rick, the American artist who sketches in the cafe every day…

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…and the banquette where I can find Mickey, the 20-year old house cat who rules the roost at Cafe Le Select:

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The tea is always good in Paris cafes because they have  machines that get the water really hot hot hot. I like that.

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I can not look at the crowd at Cafe Le Select

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…without thinking of the wonderful book that Rick Tulka drew about  Cafe Le Select

6 Paris Cafe

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…called Paris Cafe: The Select Crowd:

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You can read about Rick and see his art by clicking on this link

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…or you can meet him at Cafe Le Select (with fellow blogger and Friend of Rick, Carol Gillott of Paris Breakfasts:

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Meanwhile, back in the corner banquette, look who else has also showed up for work — ordered his coffee, opened his lap top, spread a towel next to him so that Mickey will sit within purring distance…

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(He was French and not a big talker or else I’d have more info to give you about this Monsieur, but he’s clearly One Of Us, seeing as how he brings a towel and all.)

And then it was off to Giverny…

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…where my sweet room at the B&B (Coin des Artists, which used to be the village grocery store in Monet’s day ) came with a tea service at my disposal…

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…but I didn’t make tea in my room, preferring the great stuff that came with breakfast…

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…(note that those chairs are copies of the chairs in Monet’s diningroom) and the Happy Hour that came with a happy friend named Toddy…

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…whose ears you see in the center of this photo of my other favorite beverage:

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On one of the three days that I spent in Giverny I walked 4 kilometers to the neighboring town of Vernon…

 

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…to research Monet’s life in Normandy, and to reward myself with afternoon tea at Cafe Globe:

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Cafe Globe was filled with lots of local French people such as these two gentlemen:

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Even though the couple sitting next to me were Americans with their Rick Steves’ Guide to France I really enjoyed my tea time at the Globe and here’s why: When the old guy in the background of the preceding photo shuffled up to the bar to pay for his lunch I asked him if it would bother him if I took a photo of his jacket:

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Mais non, he said: I wear this because les Americans were the heros of my childhood. Then, because he was so proud of his system for the portage of cash,  he made a lengthy exhibition to the barman about how he keeps his money in his hat, which looks as if it’s from The French Foreign Legion, and I didn’t get to ask him for more info about how he got his jacket because I was laughing too hard about his hat.

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Normans. They are a separate breed of French. I was reminded of this on my last day in Giverny, when I stopped in at the famous Hotel Baudy, the old hangout when Monet was still alive and this village was crawling with young artists who wanted to be Impressionists when they grew up:

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This is a very lively place with a huge lunch crowd and an enormous dinner crowd made up of the tourists who day trip to Monet’s garden. I had my 2:30 tea in the front room, where the bar is, which is in effect a front row seat to the three ring circus that is Hotel Baudy…

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…where I could keep my eye on everyone who came for lunch…

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…or came in for a quick cup of coffee, like these honeymooners from Spain:

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This American lady took their place and I watched as she sounded out the menu, and then adjusted her scarf so the Hermes logo was visible:

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I didn’t like her at all. Then a village regular came in for his kind of amber-colored eau de vie, which was served in a wine glass:

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He had  ripped trousers, scuffed shoes, and was in need of a haircut — he looked just like Monet before the world fell in love with his haystacks (when he was poor and undiscovered)!!!!

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And here is where I bagged that rarest of photographic feats when stalking the Frenchman on his native turf:

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I caught him doing the Gallic Shrug!!

And now, in order to keep up with this thrilling saga one tea cup at a time, we must whisk ourselves to Marrakech, Specifically, to the Casbah :

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On a rue called Tadla (which looks exactly like all the other rues in the casbah which is why I always got lost whenever I went out and could only found my way back by accident and slow process of trial and error):

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The Riad (Morrocan home with interior courtyard garden) Orangers d’Alilia was my home base in Marrakech — that’s the French woman, Madame Joelle, who runs it, dressed in white:

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It was under the orange trees in the small inner courtyard….

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…where Fatima welcomed me to Morocco with a much-needed cup of tea. I’d had a busy morning in Paris, then schlepped to the airport and been  stuffed on a full plane (Easy Jet) that was the most claustrophobic experience I’d ever had,  and now it was almost seven o’clock at night and I was nervous about traveling in Marrakech on my own. It was good to calm my nerves with a cup of mint tea.

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There were little russet-colored birdies who flew into the riad to sit in the orange trees and sing. I gave crumbs of my biscotti to them. Now I know why old ladies feed the birds. It’s because they are lonely.

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I would highly recommend this riad to any traveler.

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I did not expect such understated luxury in Marrakech, or rose petals on the bed…

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Mint tea is OK for certain social situations any time after high noon or for calming nerves in the early evening , but I need a real tea when it really counts — at breakfast. For those times, Carol Gillot had given me a stash of India tea lightly flavored with vanilla which I brewed in a little silver pot of just-boiled water:

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To make the most of my 48 hours in Morocco I had arranged on Day One to spend the morning at the Majorelle Garden and then travel 20 kilometers to the west of Marrakech to meet a Peace Corps volunteer in a village called Tameslouht:

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When I got off the bus I realized that we had not arranged any specific meeting point in Tameslouht, but it was very easy to locate Sara by asking around the village for “The American”. A young womb working at the new community center knew exactly who “The American” was and she graciously made a telephone call to Sara, and while I waited for her I was given a tour of the center’s facilities, which included classrooms for adult education in literacy, sewing, and weaving — as well as two rooms of little kids in day care:

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They were told to Say Bonjour to the lady — which they did, in unison, while staring at me like I was a unicorn. CUUUUUUUUTE. Then I singed their VIP Visitor’s Book and Sara came to collect me.

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Sara Quinn has a blog about her Peace Corps experience — you can read it by clicking here — and she took me to the home of the President of the Women’s Craft Association of Tameslouht  to inspect the many things they create (subject of a future post). German travelers Wilhelm and Ursula were also checking out the array of clothing and accessories and we all drank tea with Sara and Zenib and Sara’s darling Moroccan fiance, Mustafa:

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Then Sara took us on a tour of her town.

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The next day, Sara traveled to meet me in Marrakech to guide me around the souk (market) and the Djemma El Fna (main square, where the snake charmers and the storytellers convene) and other insider points of interest but we did not have tea so those stories don’t belong here, except for the part where I tell you that Sara is the cutest damn Peace Corps Volunteer ever:

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I flew out of Marrakech that evening, arriving in Paris IN A REALLY BAD MOOD at midnight. I was so pissed off that I didn’t even photograph the “tea” that was served at breakfast at the hotel I stayed at in Orly Airport.

The next decent cup of tea I had was back at Carol Gillott’s apartment in the 15th arrondissement — I had searched high and low all over Paris for my favorite patisserie — Pithivier! — and found it right across the street . I’d caught Carol in the act of painting a chocolate  Religieuse there, in the background, so this is a tea cup still life that I call  One Paints and The Other Doesn’t:

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I’d got an email from a dear blog reader, Laura, about the cafe in the 6th arrondissement that I’d photographed for you two weeks ago — Le Conti. Laura had always thought this cafe was a figment of the imagination but non, it’s real — so for her I made this one of my last cups of tea:

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I was instructed, by Laura, to ask about a resident terrier named Orson. Ah, Orson!, the handsome young barman said, “Orson n’est plus d’ici — his owner took him to live on his parents’ farm. Hmmmmm….

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I wonder if “sent to live on a farm” means in France what it means in America?

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My time in Paris was coming to an end now, and to understand this next cup of tea you must know that my days in Paris had a purpose that I have not discussed with you, dear readers. I had set myself the task of visiting every arrondissement — 20 in all — to fulfill a Wish List (of unusual sights, experiences, personalities) that has taken me five years to put together. It was much, much more physically challenging and mentally exhausting than I’d anticipated. But I’d always planned to end the quest with a big splurge cup of tea in the ultra ritzy 8th arrondissement, as a reward for accomplishing a difficult task.

It was a cold, rainy day and I didn’t bother to wear the dress shoes that I’d packed or this occasion and I don’t have to tell you that after two weeks on the road my hair was a fright — I was a total mess. Still, when I went to both Le Bristol hotel (room rates start at $800 at night) and the Georges V (as I walked in Robin Thicke was strutting out) I was met with extraordinary courtesy. I inspected their tea rooms and menus (both charge 48 euro for Afternoon Tea — that’s about $60) and found them both lacking: the teas at Le Bristol were all very perfumy and came with a rack of pastries that I didn’t have any interest in; the teas at the Georges V were better and the pastries were not as froofy, but there was a piano player banging away in the salon which I found extremely annoying.

I was feeling depressed. Did I mention the cold, and the rain? And that I was fatigued with travel, Paris, myself, and my loneliness? I had wanted this quest to end with a nice big India tea bang and it wasn’t happening.

Then I noticed that right next door to the Georges V was the Prince of Wales hotel. Just as luxe, only open for five days after a two-year long renovation. The hospitality was exquisitely warm and professional, and the tea menu was outstanding. I sank into a leather sofa and ordered Tuareg Tea.

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Well, I did ask beforehand if Tuareg Tea was the same kind of tea that I remembered drinking with Tuaregs when I was in the Peace Corps in Niger. Yes, I was told — it’s a black tea served tres sucre (very sugary). It wasn’t. It was a hay-tasting mild tea (did I mention that they’d only been opened for five days? Still working out the bugs)…but I was so grateful for the comfort and quality of the service, and so happy that I wasn’t forced to buy pastries I wouldn’t eat, that I did not go into my usual high dudgeon. I sat contentedly and sang to myself along with the soothing background music, Frank and Nancy Sinatra (Something Stupid) and Dusty Springfield (The Look of Love)…

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…and watched people drink champagne cocktails…

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…and chatted with the young hostess (that’s her, in the while collar and cuffs) about her childhood in Senegal…

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…and wished I had those lighting fixtures in the form of the three feathers of the Prince of Wales….

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They would totally work in my dining room.

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No, it’s not over yet. There’s one more cup of tea, the one I had after a lunch of pate and baguette and classic onion soup on my last day in Paris, in a hot trendy bistro in the Marais called Les Philosophes.

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They had the grace to serve Mariage Freres tea, a perfect way to redeem a trip that was feeling, at this point, like it was two or three days too long. It was still raining and cold and I was tired of Paris but I was GOING HOME!

As I type this, I’ve been home for about 46 hours. I have bought new curtains for the dining room and went on a shopping quest to re-accessorize the kitchen in shades of lime and apple green with a few gun metal and bamboo accents. I’ve ordered French cafe curtains from Williams Sonoma. I’ve been busy. Jet lag gives me a lot of nervous energy but also, I’ve become used to a frantic pace of life (that 20 Arrondissement TO DO List was a massive project that required ten hour days of TO DO-ing) . That’s my excuse for the length of this post — hope you enjoyed your trip in my Tea World!

 

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