January 2016

How To Make a Champagne-O-Meter for Winter Storm Jonas

Step One: Set a bottle of your favorite bubbly on the back lawn. Wait for snow. Or go to bed, since the forecast calls for snow to start falling at 2AM and sorry, only a slow dance with a Beatle is worth staying up that late for.

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Step Two: Wake up next morning and check for accumulation:

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Step Three: Gather together your Winter Storm Survival Kit (a 1,000-piece picture puzzle, Trader Joe’s fish sticks, homemade black bean soup, plenty of indoor champagne) and then do what Taffy does:

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Step Four: Sleep late the next morning and then head out to the back yard:

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Step Five: No, 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning is NOT too early to open this baby up.

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And yes, the best place to see a really beautiful Winter sunset is by standing out on your roof…

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But chilling champagne and hanging out on my roof wasn’t the only thing I did last weekend. I also spent some time painting some really truly hideous pictures.

It all began with this photo:

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This is the entrance to the famous garden in Giverny once owned by Claude Monet, photographed by me on May 15, 2013. Those are some miniature apple trees trained to grown horizontally along a wire fence, and in the background is a multitude of cherry trees in blossom and those really tall trees in the far back are in Monet’s water garden. That weeping willow to the far left is the one that Monet painted so often when he did his water lily pictures.

So two weeks ago I decided to try and paint this view:

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Done:

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Yeeeeech. First of all, I drew the apple trees incorrectly. Also, the tree line in the background is very unattractive. I regret my decision to paint in those arbors with the pink flowers in the middle-ground. And the whole picture is too dark, mostly because I used black to give the apple tree foliage some depth, some kind of definition to make them stand out as forms:

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This is very discouraging. I don’t feel good about myself when I spend four hours painting something that turns out to be dreck. But what else can I do but take a break, wait to be snowed in, and start again:

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Done:

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Yeeeech. I thought that changing the perspective by raising the horizon would help the composition, and I didn’t paint in a sky — which I now realize was a dumb thing to do. Those arbors that were so noticeable in Yeeech Picture No. 1 are now merely hinted at by stroking in some faint lines in the pink haze — also a dumb move. And the  apple trees still aren’t doing it for me.

So, I start over again:

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I’ve already decided that I’m going to do something completely different with the apple trees: I’m NOT going to paint them leaf by leaf — that is just the wrong way to handle these things. So I started by blobbing in some apple-tree forms and when they looked OK, I committed to the picture and painted in the sky.

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I’m only going to add teeny tiny leafs here and there, and only int he foreground…yeah, that’s the ticket…

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And DONE:

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Yeeeeeeech. I mean, just yeeeeeech. I lowered the horizon, which was a good move, and I painted in a better looking background tree line, and I didn’t go crazy over-doing the apple tree foliage but still…YEEEEECH.

Although I am working from a reference photo that I took two years ago, I’ve been to this garden numerous times and I was just there last month, too, so I know very well the feeling of this particular spot. And I don’t get that feeling from this picture.

OK. I’ve now invested about 16 hours into finding all the worst ways to paint this scene. I’m pretty depressed. I have to figure out how to paint this picture in order to figure out how to paint any other part of Monet’s garden (which I plan to do a lot of). I think it’s time for some soul-searching, for facing some artistic self-truths, and stuff, but first I have to go find some champagne. Because champagne is happiness.

So I got a glass of champagne and I re-thought about all the things that went wrong during the three times I’ve tried to paint this pic. And I realized that it all came down to the size of the paper:

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Each time that I’ve painted this view I have started out with a rather large sheet of paper, about 9 x 12  inches. This is all wrong. One thing that I know about myself as a painter is that I love to work small. Small small small small. And, as it turns out, this picture would be very happy on a much smaller sheet of paper anyway (as shown cropped, below):

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So I cut me some new sheets of 90 lb. Canson watercolor paper — 15 centimeter square sheets:

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And I started all over AGAIN:

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And I painted for another four hours and then I was DONE:

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And except for that wonky sign (which is removable), I don’t think I’ll be re-painting this anytime soon.

The better part of art, like life, is just about hanging in there.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

And speaking of hanging in there, here’s a picture of five of my cats doing just that, in their own very spectacular ways:

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I had managed to wade out onto the back patio while I was digging out my Champagne-O-Meter, and had put out some trays of bird seed, which caused the felines to gather in the den:

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 Kitty TV.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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The Winter Solstice on December 22 was rained out this year here on the shores of the Long Island Sound, but Christmas Eve was spectacular!

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So Top Cat and I did our annual Praising of the Light champagne and sun set watching ceremony on December 24,  and it was 72 degrees, which is why even though I am three weeks away from my 60th birthday, I am wearing my go-to T-shirt on this wintery eve!

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Yes, it was warm, but cloudy — that’s the sun, glowing from within that dense stratocumulus, above — and we did not expect much…but as the twilight fell at approx. 4:31 pm, this happened:

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And then this happened:

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(Above, the Manhattan skyline is to the far left, and that’s New Rochelle at center-right.)

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And there it goes, the light from our own gorgeous star departing from our skies on its way to Cleveland, and Sioux Falls, and Coeur d’Aline, and Tacoma. There goes the sun, Welcome in the Winter Light!

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While I have your attention, I feel obliged to tell you one last short tale from my trip to France two weeks ago, and it’s about the space-tree (see above) on display at Galleries lafayette (the famous department store in Paris):

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Yesterday I found a newsletter (of sorts, above) from my visit to the shop while I was unpacking my haul of ephemera from my journey, you know, the usual assortment of ticket stubs, museum pamphlets, cafe coasters, phone numbers of gents met in cafes, etc., that one tends to accumulate whilst vagabonding. And yes, we already know that the Galleries went with a [weird] Christmas From Another Planet theme this year…but we did not know that there were robots involved:

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This stuff is printed in light gray ink so I did the best I could to enhance it so you can read it — and because I know my mother is going to complain that the print is too small to read I’m going to repeat that you can click onto the photo itself to get an enlarged (full screen) version…you might have to click twice depending on whatever elves are in charge of your computer machine, not that I think this is actually worth reading, but I take my obligations as your Paris corespondent seriously so I must let you choose to read, or not read:

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How about we nominate this as the Worst Christmas Story Ever?

Now, as I mentioned above, my 60th birthday is happening in three weeks, on Jan. 16.

I am bracing myself. Birthdays that end in Zero are always a challenge to one’s identity, but this one is walloping me. Of course my dear Top Cat has something special planned, which may or may not include a tiger, so even the whiff of big cat-titude almost makes it worth it, this shedding of old/youngness for young/oldness. But we will have to wait until The Day to be sure.

In the meantime, this is how I am welcoming in this new phase of Vivianness:

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I am ditching my ratty, falling apart, 15-year old address book for this:

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I’ve been putting off this task for several years, but I came across this spiffy book at Barnes and Nobel and finally the time was NOW.

15 years ago, I was not married to Top Cat (or to anybody). I was not living on Long Island, I was not writing books, and I was years away from picking up a paint brush! I did not have a computer or a saving account, and I was still drinking martinis.  Of the ten cats that were living with me at the time, there is only one left — dear little Coco, who is rather frail these days and spends most of her life snoozing on her special heating pad bed.

Ah, there are so many memories in an old address book. The names of editors I used to write for, back when newspapers and magazines paid for writing…that fling in London whose name I never would have remembered…Stephen King’s home address (?)…”Mr. Lucky” in New Orleans (nice Indian guy who ran a great souvenir shop on Decatur Street)…the lady who runs the Penguin Encounter program at Mystic Aquarium…

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…a list of places to meet English guys (above), which (as my note says), I got on April 1, 2002 when I went to the British Consul to sign the condolence book on the event of the death of the Queen Mother. (I did like the Queen Mother and all but hey, life is for the living, as they say, and to the 2002 version of me, English guys made life worth living.) The Red Lion is still going strong, and it looks like NW3 closed shortly after I checked it out, and the Sporting Club closed in 2005.

There’s also the card from the guy who ran a sky diving business:

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I have obliterated all identifying info because I just Googled this guy and I don’t want to blab any more about him because of  an unfortunate incident involving the death of two skydivers in 2010 — he was a good guy, and gave me his home contact, and I used to be the kind of person who thought I’d go sky diving one day.

(Part of me is thinking that in 2000, I was 45 years old…isn’t that kind of old to be bar hopping with Brits and thinking about jumping out of planes when you couldn’t even stand to look out the windows when you were at Windows on the World in the old North Trade Tower…ohhhhhhhh….right….that’s gone, too…..)

Oh well, so much for maturity: For now I am holding onto the contact info of three people who, as I reach the sagacious age of 60,  I may or may not want to still get even with.

I don’t think I’ll ever remember why I needed the phone and address for the Ferret Rescue of Westchester, but isn’t running into that kind of thing exactly why updating a very old address book is such a nostalgic and annoying thing to do?

In all, bet that less than 20% of the names and numbers in my old address book made it into my new one.So, Yay! I have lots of room for new friends! And isn’t that something to get happy about? No matter how old you are?

This is both a rhetorical question, and a moral to the story of The Old and the New Address Book. Because I am writing this post on New Year’s Eve Day and I think that having a new address book, cleared of all old business (mostly), ready for filling up with all kinds of new amigos and idiocies, seems like a good mindset to have for 2016.

Happy, happy, happy New Year to you all, my Dear Readers and Friends.

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