Isn’t that why we paint? Or is that why we travel? Or both? This week’s watercolor demonstration will be all about escape — because you know what they say: painting your dream hidden garden is almost as good as escaping into your dream hidden garden. I’ve been back from New Orleans a whole week but I’m still under the spell of that city’s magical private tropical sanctuaries…
…especially since it is still cold (still cranking up my electric blankie at night, and dressing in fleece from head to toe during the day) and dismal (rain today, and yesterday, and tomorrow) here on Long Island. Ahhhh, to be back in the French Quarter…
…where every cup of tea is full of possibilities, both psychic…
And as if that weren’t enough bliss to get you through the day, the Quarter also has a fantastic book store culture. I started my Book Shop Quest with Beckham’s Books on Decatur Street:
Who, of course, was not going to help me one bit.
You’ll notice that while not running away altogether, Juniper did everything possible to stay out of focus.
There’s ten more photos of more of the same blurry cat-like object…and even some pix of a disappeared cat:
So let’s focus on the sure thing at Beckham’s Books: GREAT BOOKS!
Finding this on my first day in New Orleans was the omen that convinced me that this was going to be the best New Orleans trip ever:
I already treasure my copies of The Silent Traveler in Paris and The Silent Traveler in Edinburgh – Chiang Yee (1903 – 1977) was a traveling memoirist, like me, who also illustrated his wanderings in ten books under his “Silent Traveler” persona in the 1940s to the 1970s. Yee was in San Francisco in the 1950s but his book wasn’t published until 1963.
I love reading travel memoirs from The Golden Age of Travel (capital-T Travel died in 1978), and if there’s pictures, so much the better:
It was when I went back to Beckham’s Books two days later that I finally got a good picture of Juniper, the Book Shop Cat:
And I found another treasure!
Irwin Shaw (1913 – 1984), author of the 1970s best seller Rich Man, Poor Man, writes here about his first visit to Paris on the day of its liberation from the Nazis on August 25, 1944 and of his life as an ex-pat in The City of Light in the 1950s – 1970s. And as if that weren’t thrilling enough, there’s illustrations by Ronald Searle!
Searle (1920 – 2011) has a delicious sense of humor about Paris that is both timeless, and very 1970s (Paris! Paris! was published in 1976).
There are 35 wonderful illustrations in Paris! Paris!
The good people and cat at Beckham’s Books offer a free map to all the other book shops in the French Quarter, so my next stop was at Crescent City Books on Chartres Street:
And to prove that my entire visit to NOLA was charmed, I got there just as their book shop cat went on duty:
I can vow to the 100% truth of this sign:
Oh, Isabel, I love you so:
Upstairs at Crescent City Books you will find the Gardening Section, near Isabel’s bed (on those old wooden stadium seats) and her litter box (under the Sale table).
Is this not the best title you ever saw for a gardening book?
Of course I bought it. It was published in London in 1973 and I don’t know if you know anything about London in 1973, but that was not a sparkling year for garden writing of the bedside variety. I imagined stories of delightful garden get-aways, fantastic garden follies, quaint garden indulgences, dreamy garden escapes…
…instead, I got a book of guaranteed garden enervation.
In 1970s England, Less Common Vegetables were egg-plant, sweet pepper, and “cob corn”, which the reader is instructed to boil for 15 minutes before eating. Y-a-w-nnnnnnn.
So I guess it does live up to its cover, in a sleep-aiding way. So that means that if I want to read my perfect Gardener’s Bedside Book I’ll have to write it. Unless one of my dear readers does it first. Any volunteers?
Next, I hit the elegant Faulkner House book store on Pirate’s Alley…
…and I bought a book (I always buy something when I go to a book store, because I want book stores and their cats to always be there for me), a new guide book about New Orleans.
I asked about a book store cat, but they have a book store poodle here and she was napping upstairs. “She’s in a mood today,” I was told.
Next it was on to Kitchen Witch on Toulouse Street…
…which sells nothing but cooking and food-related books, which is why they use an old oven as a book case:
They had three dogs on duty here, but I only took a photo of Jackson the Basset Hound because I did not want to disturb the other two, who were sleeping in a corner. I did not by a book here — see those amber bottles on the table in front of the toaster (below)? That’s the house’s special red-beans-and-rice-spice that they sell, which I bought so I can not only read New Orleans when I am back home on dreary Long Island, I can taste it too.
Lastly, there was Arcadian Books on Orleans Street:
It’s run by a French-speaking American scholar with a strong French-speaking clientele and a slight hoarding tendency:
You can read more about this amazing place here but let me quote from a previous visitor:
Some day in this place, the wrong butterfly will land on the wrong bookcase, which will tip over, and the whole joint will go down in a cloud of book dust and really heavy hardbacks…Meaning, this is the most chaotic, crammed, beautiful bookstore in the city. It’s like a portrait of the whole project of reading/knowledge: messy, hard to make sense of, and full of more than you’ll ever have time to take in or understand.
The proprietor, however, is shockingly put together and squeaky clean…
And handsome, too, I might add…and on his bulletin board behind his desk, this made me laugh out loud:
Then again, I always find the conditional subjunctive tense hilarious. It loses something in the translation, but this obviously well-to-do sweater-vested middle-aged inhabitant of the seizieme is using a very literary kind of speech to say to his plump little wife, “I should make myself acquainted with a great poet, so that he can have the benefit of my melancholy.” (Note to Jain: I know you’re reading this on your iPhone, so here’s the French caption that you can’t see in this photo: Il faudrait que je fasse la connaissance d’un grand poete, afin qu’il puisse beneficier de ma melancolie. Yes, it’s much funnier in French.)
Note the cat under the coffee table — that counts as the book store cat here. I bought a book of maps of New Orleans that is on my desk right next to me as I type this.
Not only do we not have second hand book stores with cats or basset hounds or French-speaking curators here on Long Island, we also don’t have any damn blooming gardens yet in this bitter cold and disappointing Spring. So I have to paint one:
This is a real garden in London, surrounded by high yellowish brick walls:
I was there on a sunny day (Ahhh! I almost remember what a sunny day was like….), so I have to make the background the color of sunbeams:
Quick, while it’s still wet, I have to blob in some pale greenery:
And more greenery:
Dark greens for the middle ground:
Add shadows, and we’re done:
Now, for the foreground, we paint a first layer of greenery (I’m afraid I’m going to have to use the word “green” in may variations for this post):
Add detail using middle-value greens:
Add contrast with very dark green:
But be careful not to over-do it:
I draw guiding lines on top of watercolor here because after I paint in these bricks I will erase the pencil lines:
Lastly, I hold my breath and paint the grille. If I screw up at this final step I will have wasted hours and hours of work:
This is the entrance to a walled garden in London that I will probably not tell you about until I publish the Damn Garden Book, because a girl needs her secrets. I’m painting my London chapter this month because I’ve tried and tried and tried to paint New Orleans and so far I SUCK so until I get the hang of capturing the je ne sais pas of a New Orleans garden I will stick with what I DO know.
This post is dedicated to Top Cat, who tells me I don’t write about him often enough. If I didn’t think that this post was too loooooong already, I’d show you photos of him dancing in the street in the French Quarter, which if you dear readers aren’t sick of NOLA yet I’ll blog next week –my last post before I head off to Paris, Giverny, and Marrakech, where I hope to make the acquaintance of a great poet so that he can make good use of my melancholy.
P.S. Dear readers, because of renewed spam activity, I will have to close Comments on my blog after five days. So, if you are reading this on Wednesday or later, I’m sorry to say that you will not be able to leave your message but it’s nothing personal. I’m here every Friday — hope to see you here too.