How to Paint a Waterfall

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As a writer/illustrator who doesn’t want to bore my dear blog readers I tend to focus on the illustrating party of my work because if I wrote about writing all you’d see is …

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… yeah, that: Me sitting around thinking.

For the record, I have never ever chewed on a pen, pencil, quill, or crayon. Ew. Ew. Ewwwwwwwwww. I mean, if I were oblivious to the germs that accumulate on writing instruments I’d just lick the surface of my desk for oral gratification.

But getting back to writing, in this past week there has been a big development in my writing career that I will take a moment to tell you about before we get back to the fun and pix of illustrating.

Last week I got some wonderful negative feedback from both my agent and my editor, who both identified the same weakness in the manuscript of the Damn Garden Book. They are both very smart readers (naturally, since it’s their calling in life to read and make books) and they both zero’d in on the same blind spot, a fatal flaw that I had been oblivious to, about what was not working in my narrative. I am ever so thankful that they were honest enough to point it  out to me.

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I won’t go into what the criticism was. You’d have to have read the first three chapters of the manuscript to get it and I’m sure you don’t want me to go into that kind of detail but here’s a promise: When I do a book event for the Damn Garden Book in your town and you come and sit in the front row, you can ask me what the fatal flaw was and I will hold up the visual aid (the Damn Garden Book) show you book, chapter, verse how it could have gone oh, so wrong. We’ll laugh and commiserate and think deep thoughts about the mystery of the writer’s craft and then go out for a glass of Pinot Grigiot.

As a result of this fine negative information that was gifted to me last week, I have to reboot the DGB. Here is a picture of a writer, thinking very hard about her reboot:

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Come to think of it, that pose — with pen/pencil/quill at the mouth — is probably just illustration shorthand for “thinking really hard”. So yes, this past week I have been gleefully tearing apart my manuscript, putting pages in a new order (which is why I always use a loose-leaf notebook to hold my manuscript: makes it very mutable) and deleting great swaths of text and writing new bits of exposition…

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…which would be very dull to write about almost impossible to photograph. If I wanted to bore the dear readers of this blog I might as well blog about unpacking from that road trip to the Delaware Bay that I took two weeks ago:

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Which I have not yet actually fully un-packed from. Yes, when I go on a car trip I haul out my biggest, ugliest suitcase and pack it with my own comforter and pillows because I do not use hotel blankets and pillows. Ew. Ew. Ewwwwwwwwww. (See: above, re: chewing on pens, pencils, etc.). As you can see, when Penelope decides that this un-packed suitcase is her new favorite place to nap well, then, that suitcase stays un-packed until it becomes a hazard to life and limb (I’ve already tripped over it once, in the dark, when I forgot that there was a big stonking suitcase in the doorway between the dining room and the living room).

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I took this picture last week, one week after than the one above it. I could walk into my living room right now and take anothear pic just like it.

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Honest to DoG, I just took this pic, a WEEK after the one above: That black lump on the EMpire-style chair is Cindy and that’s Taffy, eyeing the Sweet Spot from under the coffee table.

And we all know that as long as Lickety and/or Taffy and Cindy are hovering nearby, dying to take their own turn on this amazing new fabulously comfortable napping hot spot, Penelope will never, never relinquish control of the big stonking suitcase, which will probably rot in this corner of the livingroom before I have the heart to take it way from her. (See: nice Empire-style chair, above, re: how I let these cats re-purpose every object in this house including, now, suitcases.) Which reminds me:

I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the universe for the six doses of Frontline I use every month in May, June, July, August, September, and October. For two tablespoons-worth of Frontline (approx. equivalent to a tea bag’s worth of tea), I generate this much trash, most of it plastic:

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This ought to be a crime. This is excessive packaging and I hate it..but what can I do? Fleas are nasty and disgusting and germy and give my cats scabs (See:above, re: chewing on pens, pencils, etc.).

Universe, please forgive me.

And now, without further ado, let’s paint!

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I had already painted most of the rock face before I thought of taking photos.

But Step One was prepping this picture with masking fluid:

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And here’s how to paint small falls of water  (I’m using a combination of light blue and greenish-blue):

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First, I brush in strokes of clear water:

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And then I drop the paint into the water:

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I like the effect, very watercolor-y. I’m just letting water and paint do what they do when you put them together. (I also leave small areas of dry white paper showing.)

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I had intentionally left some of the rock face unpainted so it would make a soft boundary to the water:

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When I paint rock (which, by the way, I LOVE to do), I paint one rock face at a time. Here is how I do it: I brush in clear water on an area (let’s call it a “cell”) that I have drawn as a surface:

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I am using my beloved cheapo Grumbacher paints here because with all the chalk filler in them, they blend really well (that is to say, they don’t really blend well at all, which is what I like) when I drop them into the “cell” that I have prepared for them. I mix four color right on my little bitty brush — blue, black, brown, and grey/flesh:

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Here is what happens when you lightly drop your brush, which is loaded with paint, into a “cell” that is full of clear water:

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I go back a dab in some black on the edges, and then I let dry. Where I used a lot of brown to paint that bit of rock (above), here I am going with more of a blue-grey color:

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You never know what you are going to get! Well, sure, you can control the areas that need to be light or dark, blue or brown (so that the whole rock face makes sense), but within each “cell” you ever know how it’s going to dry — look at all that texture and interest that is in each rock:

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And yes, you can see that I had to write “ROCK” with arrows on this drawing so I didn’t get confused as to what was rock and what was waterfall. Also, you can see that I have now lifted of the masking fluid that I had previously put down…I changed my mind on how I wanted this main section of waterfall to look.

Truth is, I had never painted a waterfall before I did this picture, so I did some preliminary sketches:

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I tried out several different ways of painting a waterfall, and I cut out bits so I could hold them against what I’ve already painted to see how it would look. In the end, I decided to go for a much loser effect that did not require masking fluid:

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And then I painted the rest of the picture:

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This is one of the best things about re-booting the Damn Garden Book

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…I can open up the scope of the book, thanks to the wonderful negative criticism I got last week.

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And to answer a dear reader’s question last week…no, the title of the Damn Garden Book is not The Damn Garden Book. I call all of my books-in-progress the Damn [fill in the blank] Book because most of the time that’s how I feel about all my books-in-progress. They are such a damn pain in the ass to write, and I wish they would write their damn selves,but they are, in the end, the best pain-in-the-assy things I’ve ever done.

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I have a totally different working title for the Damn Garden Book which my agent and editor use. I don’t make them say “Damn Garden Book”.

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And, to answer another FAQ, no, Top Cat does not take these photos. I take them myself. I use my right hand to hoist the camera, point, shoot, and hope I catch something useful. Half the photos I take are useless.

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I was very happy to paint this new illustration because this is one of the most delightful consequences of receiving that wonderful negative criticism last week and opening up the narrative …

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I get to add Seattle to the Damn Garden Book!!

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This is the famous and beautiful Waterfall Garden Park in downtown Seattle. (I had to leave empty space for text, TBA.)

Dear Readers, I hope that you are all making it a point to head out to a local garden park to experience these last fine moments of Summer 2013. Top Cat and I spent a fine Saturday evening at Morgan Park here on the North Shore of Long Island:

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I rarely take a vacation from blogging, dear readers, but between this Damn Garden Book re-boot and these final perfect days of Summer, I must call Time Out.

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I am taking the next two weeks off, dear readers, to both get stuff done and do nothing. I forgot to tell you that in spite of the things that my publisher wants fixed about the Damn Garden Book, the DGB is a GO and the sooner I write the damn thing, the sooner it will appear in stores and libraries. I also want to hang out with men in kilts (the Long Island Scottish Games are this weekend), and re-boot my brain.

I will leave the Comments section open until Sept. 6 so please feel free to leave a comment or question about writing, illustrating, cats, or tea, or whatever.  Because I will check in often and use my spiffy new Reply function to answer any and all queries;  as for the future of this blog, I have a tutorial all about painting cats already planned for Sept 13…

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…and a new tutorial called Why It Is So Hard To Copy An Oil Painting In Watercolor:

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But, as there are only so many Summer sun sets until Autumn, I must bid you all a fond See You Later, and hope to see each one of you back here on September 13.

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Now get out there and goof off!

In The Way Back Machine

It is December, 1966. I am ten years old and in sixth grade at North Willow Grove Elementary School. In a parallel universe there is a girl my age with perfect hair walking to school with her little sister:

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In this parallel universe this girl’s name is Elizabeth Terry (although it appears that we use the same Lennes Arithmetic book):

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(N. J.Lennes was the chairman of the mathematics dept. at The University of Montana, a fact that I was not aware of until I googled it five minutes ago.) Yes, I drew this picture when I was ten years old in December 1966 (I dated the pic on the back). From the same year I also have two short stories that I wrote and illustrated, both with a main character named Peggy Anne who lives in Oklahoma and made friends with a new girl who had just moved from Canada.

When I was ten years old I thought Oklahoma was the coolest state in the union but I don’t remember why. I am not showing you those two short stories, which I made into chapbooks, because it creeps me out: I have to tell you that it does not give me any pleasure to look at this old stuff. Me and Johnny Rotten both agree (and if you have not read Johnny Rotten’s memoir, titled Rotten, you are missing out on a memoir that speaks to my heart and soul): we hated being children.

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It’s not about having a sad, bad, or dangerous childhood. Me and Johnny Rotten were born old souls and neither one of us has anything good to say about being trapped in that powerless, dependent, and repugnant phase of life called childhood. I hated being a child, hate it with a white-hot a fury that incinerates my peace of mind even now, 40 years after the fact, and to this day I don’t like being around things or people who remind me of it .

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However, in spite of the fact that it floods me with memories of a terrible time of my life, I can look at that drawing of mine from 1966  and see that I had pretty good draftsmanship for a ten year old. Yes, I always knew I could draw. Yes, I used to amaze the dim wits in my elementary school  that I could draw FREEHAND, especially since I’m a leftie. No, I do not remember deriving any particular satisfaction from the fact that I could draw well.

Which brings me to the Thought Of The Day.

Drawing well is the worst thing that can happen to an artist.

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Thomas Kinkade, the so-called Painter of Light, whose over-priced mass-produced “art” hangs on the wall of one in 20 American households, could draw.

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I’m picking on him because he is dead and I do not want to call a living artist (oh, honey, I could name names…) banal … but sadly, that’s the trap of being able to draw well. It’s like being born beautiful. Pretty girls don’t have to dig deep to find a personality or an I.Q.; good draftsmen don’t have to dig deep to find their own unique style. Pretty girls and good draw-ers tend to be bo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ring.

Claude Monet couldn’t draw…that’s why he invented impressionism:

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Edward Gorey himself said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, March 2, 1986…

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“Sometimes I think my life would have been completely different id I had ever learned to draw.”  P1190352P1190354

Edward Gory: All his people look the same, he draws them wearing fur coats and in profile so he doesn’t have to bother with clothes or faces, his “settings” are rudimentary…and yet, his work oozes with portent and depth and connotations…

Maira Kalman can’t draw either:

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Really? This is the best you can do with freaking OMAHA BEACH????

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Maira Kalman: Can’t draw a recognizable human figure, doesn’t have a hint of perspective, can’t even draw a believable TREE … but her work is saturated with nuanced color, and humanism, and yes, love.

Maira Kalman and Edward Gorey are two of the most famous, beloved, successful artists around because they had to go beyond draftsmanship and create style.

So, if you can not draw as well as the ten year old me (see above), STOP TRYING. And start looking at what you can do well, what you can do  really, really well — color, subject matter,composition, point of view,  etc. — and let that be your springboard to make the art that only YOU can do.

Meanwhile, here’s what I did this past week to make my art a little less banal:

I’m working on a memory of a Brazilian garden for my Damn Garden Book. At first, I painted  it like this:

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But this did not seem true to my memory of it. So I hit upon the idea to represent it more like a true memory:

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Yes, I sliced it. (Truth to tell, I sliced it and then painted over bits of it, and then re-constructed it whole for the blog — which is why there are some subject matter discrepancies in the “before” shot, if you know what I mean.) Now the image looks more memory-like and the text will look interesting on the page.

I liked this idea of slicing up an image so much that I did it for all of my Brazil illustrations, and even tried it out on a banal picture of Long Island:

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Maybe I’ll make a collage-type page out of it:

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But maybe not. Maybe I’ll have to re-do the whole thing. It’s a work-in-progress.

Speaking of collage, I did a flower for my Brazil garden, the Datura metel:

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This flower blooms at night, so the only way I could show it on a night-timey background was to paint it, and then cut it out, and glue it onto a watercolored background.  Yeah, I’m pretty good with the scissors, considering that I cut right-handed. I can’t use left-handed scissors, although I can only use my left hand if I’m cutting with a mat knife, which I had to use in this case to get at some of those small bits between blossom and petal.

Next week I will have some news about the Damn Garden Book, having heard from my editor and publisher about the first three chapters that I sent to them last week. So, until we meet again next Friday, I hope you’re all hanging out in the back yard and enjoying these last wonderful Summer days.

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When Bad Ideas Happen to Good People

I had a really bad idea last week.

But first, a quick digression: Check out this window of W H Smith, the largest English bookstore in Paris, on the Rue de Rivoli (did I mention that it’s in PARIS? As in PARIS, FRANCE?): photo-5

Thank you, Carol Gillot of Paris Breakfasts for sending this spiffy photo.

As I post this, Top Cat and I are on the road, taking a little 300-mile mosey around the Delaware Bay area on the east cost.

We left the Isle of Long via the Williamsburg Bridge…

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The most beautiful skyline in the world.

…and then we drove down the Garden State Parkway through the Garden State (Surprise! It’s New Jersey!) which is a drive that we love because, for one, the Garden State Parkway…

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…is planted with  fields of wild cosmos…

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…and leads us to Top Cat’s favorite playground…

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…Atlantic City. I, too, love AC because I get to say howdy to my favorite feathered friends on the boardwalk:

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This is what my feathered friends look like one second after all the french fries that I was feeding them are gone.

Other sights from the Delaware Bay:

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Somers Point is NJ’s best kept secret.

 

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Rose-Marsh (not Marsh-Roses, which would make more sense) in Cape May, NJ.

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Ochre-colored wooden door with louvres on colonial house in Smyrna, Delaware.

Our hunt for secret gardens took us to the perfectly preserved Revolutionary village of New Castle, Delaware:

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But even on a road trip, I haul my Damn Garden Book-in-progress with me:

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That’s me, working on the London chapter of The Damn Garden Book from the 16th floor hotel room of The Water Club at Borgata Casino in Atlantic City.

The Damn Garden Book got one step closer to publication this past week. I finally got my first three chapters illustrated and written and I submitted it to my agent — I do not “workshop” my writing; I re-re-re-re-rewrite it until I think it’s 99% of exactly what I want (I never get to 100%) and then I show it to my agent. Her feedback was very positive and she thought the book was ready to submit to Bloomsbury as is. So the manuscript is at my editor’s at Bloomsbury now and as soon as she approves the concept, we’ll negotiate a publication date and voila: the Damn Garden Book will be a reality.

One thing my agent observed was how much my painting has become more sophisticated. Well, I said, that’s what happens when you paint every day — you can’t help but get better. For example, here’s a little tiny illustration that appears in my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam (Bloomsbury, 2008)…it’s on page 45 for those of you reading along.

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I drew this little illustration from reference photographs that I’d taken of my old, pre-marriage-to-Top-Cat kitchen:

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Photo montage of my dear old kitchen.

I loved my old kitchen. It had a corner, as you can see, that was just right for turning into a shrine to my love of all things Tea. About a year ago I re-did this illustration, expanding it to a full-page illustration. First, I drew it all over again:

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And then I painted it from scratch:

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I also changed cats — in the first illustration I put my cat Honey on the table — in this new illustration I put Woody Robinson on the table, in his favorite place: with his head under the lampshade.

As I so proudly boasted earlier, when you paint almost every day you can’t help but get better…which brings me to the really bad idea I had. It looks like this:

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For a chapter about a rose garden for my Damn Garden Book I got the great idea to paint a dozen rose petals. So I bought a rose bouquet, and I picked off a dozen big petals, and I scattered them on two sheets of watercolor paper. And then I painted them life-sized and exactly as they fell — isn’t that genius? Such authenticity! Such spontaneity! (I had to re-paint the petal down o the bottom there, on the right hand side — that’s a replacement petal taped to the orig. illustration; that “fix” won’t show when it’s scanned for the Damn Garden Book). And then I added text:

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Oh, lordy; I think the text here looks awful.  AWFUL. And the shape of the text is, in my thrill for painting a perfectly random picture. So I had to make some edits:

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I don’t know if you notice, but I had to cut out the petals individually and re-paint their shadows to get them all lit from the same light source.

In the end, I got a much better-looking text lay-out while preserving as much fo the old by-accident composition of rose petals:

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But I can not leave you with just these few rose petals. It’s August! My favorite month of the year! So, in honor of August, I’m re-running a favorite post from 2010 that I call: Painting August.

 

 

 

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So until next Friday, I hope you’re all enjoying the best month of Summer with road trips real and imagined.

Have a fab weekend.

 

Writing room

Date night, July, Manhattan:
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Last Friday evening Top Cat swept me off to the Big City.

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Fun Time Wedding Shower Takes to the Streets: The Bachelorette-of-Honor posing with New York’s Finest.

It was a beautiful time of day to be in the East Village.

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I remember when I had a boyfriend who in the East Village it was a dump…now it’s almost as chic as the Upper West Side:

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There’s even a touch of New Orleans in the neighborhood!:

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But this I remember from the ’80s — traffic light art installations:

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The guy on the left, with the bulging pants pockets: NOW I get why they call them CARGO PANTS!!

I love Manhattan. People live out loud in Manhattan — right on the streets:

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I love the flow of humanity, at all hours:

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Skateboarders in the flow of traffic:

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And this warmed my heart — a young girl reading a book, a real BOOK, while on the go:

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Top Cat took me to a sidewalk cafe for a glass (two) of wine, and then we hoofed down to 6th Street for a wonderful Indian dinner.

Scene in an Indian Restaurant, July 26, 2013

Couple in their late 30s, an empty bottle of wine between them. He is going on and on about the injustice of the US government’s persecution of NSA-leaker Edward Snowden. She, who seems to have drunk the greater part of that bottle of wine, has had enough when she lifts her empty wine glass and waves it in front of her, merrily announcing: “And you say J’accuse!

At 8:30 on a heartbreakingly beautiful Sumer evening we made our way to Webster Hall:

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I don’t know if you can read the marquee, but that’s PAUL WELLER! My sweet Top Cat tok me to see my Punk Rock crush!! (I haven’t been to a rock concert (excluding Paul Weller in New York three times, Los Angeles once, London twice) in, oh…ten years. And it’s still as exciting as the first time — Stephen Stills and Manassas at the Philadelphia Spectrum in 1971.)

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Oh, lordy, I loves me Paul Weller. It was standing room only in Webster Hall, so I insinuated myself to the front lines:

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You remember Paul Weller, right? He’s huge in the UK but known as a “cult” figure here in America so he does very few gigs in the States — six sows in NY, boston, and D.C. this time ’round.

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I screamed, and po-go’ed, and hollered the words when he did That’s Entertainment and completely lost it when he did a hard-rock version of my favorite song of all time , My Ever-Changing Moods. I could hardly move or speak when it was over. Good times.

I respect Paul Weller for still rocking the same Mod look that he had when he fronted the Jam in 1979, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE him for rocking the grey hair.

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I’ve never been a Stones fan because Mick Jagger makes my skin crawl, all the more so when I see his 70-year old brunette locks. Grey hair is so hard core!

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Top Cat loves my grey hair and I love that Top Cat surprises me with tickets to go see Paul Weller’s silver locks. My husband gets me, and my rock and roll crushes. In return, he has my permission to go for it if Nicole Kidman ever requests a late-night back rub from the one and only T.C.

The other exciting news this week is that I got my Majorelle Bleu paint:

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I had to get a shot of it in daylight on the glass-topped patio table with my new lanterns.

(Tea bag for scale.)  This is the quantity you can order (250 mlk) for $48. It comes from Switzerland, and for all I know the good people at the Majorelle Garden in Marrakech order it from the same factory whenever they have to re-paint the landmarks this distinctive, saturated, intense color:

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Just to remind you why it’s called “Majorelle Bleu” — photo taken on my visit to the garden in Marrakech May 2013.

Just for comparison, here are color swatches from my bluest Grumbacher paints (in the little pan-thingy) and my Windsor Newton Artists’s watercolors (in the tube):

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I used the tube watercolors straight, no diluting with water.

And then I went outside and photographed the colors in the full sunlight at 3 o’clock Wednesday afternoon for you:

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Majorelle Triscuit winner, Bev, has been waiting for this moment. I wanted to dab on the true Majorelle Bleu before I sent her the Tirscuit she won:

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I just put this Triscuit in the mail today so Bev, thank you for your patience and I love going to the post office to mail Triscuits to AUSTRALIA!!!

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And now, as promised, off we go to my Writing Room.

Truth to tell, it’s not so much a “room” as a corner of a really big den. Yes, that’s a wheel chair. When I had knee surgery last Fall I got a wheelchair and it’s the most comfortable writing chair I’ve ever owned…so I’m still using it.

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The floor of our den is black slate, so the wheelchair’s wheels don’t mark it up like the old desk chairs all did. I hardly even think of it as a wheel chair these days; it’s just my writing chair with the handy foot rests.

I have a trash can propping open the door and to my right is a small table with the manuscript on it, where I can lay out pages and measure each for text (see: last week’s post re: what the manuscript of a professional illustrated travel memoirist looks like.).

This is my desk top:

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A long time ago I read that it’s best to write facing a blank wall (Annie Dillard says so), so yes, that’s a blank wall in front of me. And that’s a Spode tea cup that is a permanent fixture…

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….because it’s where I unload the Smarties, this writer’s preferred Brain Food (duh)Smartie’s are imported from Canada, so they’re gourmet. (Thank you, GG, for the Turkish tile photo to inspire me with another shade of blue!)

Behind me are three windows, the biggest of which is the picture window that lets me keep an eye on the backyard situation, meaning the five outdoor cats who habitate the premises:

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However, it’s the indoor cats who are the main, uh, facilitators of my writing life. First there’s Cindy:

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And then there’s Penelope:

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However, the most dangerous cat in the whole herd is a certain indoor/outdoor cat, who was born feral but has discovered that with a cute face like his a cat can get unlimited door service at our house, giving him free access to all the comforts of home-living while maintaining his independence and his fierce, wild, savage ways. I’m just telling you, so you know what I’m dealing with, that Lickety is one scary, ferocious, desperado.

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Don’t be fooled by the beached-whale pose. Lickety is gangsta.

So you can see how frightening it is when Lickety decides to supervise the writing process, up close and personal:

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And the way he just makes himself at home…

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…sometimes even getting his reprobate brother Taffy in on it…

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…oh, the horror.

 

 

Writing is the 6th Impossible Thing.

I’m always interested in how writers write. That’s why I am fascinated by their rough drafts:

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This (above) is a David Foster Wallace rough draft. Or, more accurately, it’s his notes for a chapter of one of his books. What interests me is that he’s not a linear list maker. He makes notes like a left-hander, rounding thoughts up in a non-hiearchical fashion, and then later culling those thoughts and hammering them into sentences and paragraphs. (Was David Foster Wallace left-handed? Stay here while I go check….

…I’m back. I couldn’t find any information about D. F. W.’s handedness but I’d be wiling to bet that he was a southpaw.)

Now, what I make of Marcel Proust…

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..is that the was a very organized thinker, and fearless about writing crappy first drafts (look at all that writing!) and passionate (all those huge vigorous Xs!) about editing out fluff or preciousness. I see that Proust wrote out all the bad ideas (the lightest and most fleet that come first to mind) and dug deep for the good stuff that lays low, in the back of consciousness.  It takes a lot of courage to not fall in love with your first concepts, to delete all the stuff that would have made your life easier if you had lower standards, pages and pages of it.

Here is Honore Balzac, correcting proofs:

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Back then, words must have looked so very, very different when seeing them in print for the first time, is how I account for these copious “corrections”. These days, the good old word processor gives you a sense of what cold, hard print looks like. Did I mention that I’ve been writing for days, weeks really, on end, trying to wrassle my Damn Garden Book into being? Writing makes me very tense. Very. Tense. But I’m on a word processor, so I get the shock of seeing my words in cold, hard print a.s.a.p. Yay for the modern age.

To soothe my nerves, I did paint an extra New Orleans picture…

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Truth is, so much less can go wrong with a painting than with a paragraph.

…but we’ll get back to that later. This is Don Delillo, whose books I do not read:

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And this is Chuck Palahniuk, also whose books I do not read:

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No judgment there against Don and Chuck, who are both literary and marketplace superstars, it’s just that reading fiction is a colossal waste of time. But I like following Chuck’s train of thought there, the one that ends with  ”BOY IN COMA”. Fun.

I am an amateur graphologist, and the give away here (below) is the so-called “lyrical D“. That’s when the lower case “D” found at the end of a word resembles a musical note — see it?  I count eleven such lyrical D‘s here, in the words “and”, “world”, “wind”, “thread”, “round”:

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The “lyrical D” denotes a sensitive nature, a person whose general  wiftiness is because of artistic temperament, not stupidity. Not that these things aren’t mutually exclusive. The writer of all these lyrical D’s is…

…Walt Whitman.

So, as free-associative as his poems appear, they are actually meticulously composed, going by this rough draft.

Graphologically speaking, this next writer is very intellectual (vertical letter formation, straight downstroke formation to the lower case “Y”, very angular script). The “WAR IS PEACE” stuff gives it away:

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This is George Orwell’s rough draft for his novel, 1984. Raise your hand if you remember reading this in high school and thinking Jeeze…1984 is soooooo faaaar awayyyyyyy in the far, far future……Back in high school, I could not imagine a reality in which I would be 28 years old in 1984. But let’s not digress.

Next, we see that even geniuses revise:

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Yes, that’s Thomas Jefferson’s rough draft of the Declaration of Independence. I can imagine that when he wrote the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA in capital letters, he did so because the whole notion of a United States of America, the foreignness of those words, the power and danger of them, made his heart pound. He wanted to imagine what they would look like in print, he wanted to make monuments of those words. And yes, there’s that “lyrical D” again.

And then there’s the rough draft that shows the writer’s eternal obstacles and inconveniences, as seen here in a 14th century hand-lettered manuscript painstakingly inked by some anonymous monk or scribe,  recently discovered in some Ye Olde English archive, a vellum hand-bound book that has been gathering dust for centuries:

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Looks like Fluffy did a toe dance in the ink pot again.

It revives my faith in humanity, and not incidentally the written word, to see that literate men from time immemorial have chosen to share their intellectual lives and learned work and cloistered hearts with their pain-in-the-ass pet cats.

I have always said that I am a writer who illustrates. I say that because I wrote stuff long, long before I ever illustrated stuff. I only started to illustrate because I wanted to create a reading experience that depended on a visual element and I was the only illustrator who could stand to work with me. But let me be clear, as a person who does both: Writing is much, much, MUCH harder than illustrating. Paint is ten times easier to deal with than words, is all I’m saying.

Writing makes me very tense.

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If I’ve spent a day writing drivel and the obvious, I can’t sleep at night. If I paint a lousy picture, I forgive myself and try again; if I write a putrid sentence, I question my raison d’être.

Anyhoo. I wanted to show you, dear readers, my rough drafts. First, my rough draft is an actual physical object…it’s a three-ring binder notebook:

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Each page is held in a plastic sleeve, to protect the art work while I fiddle with the lay-out:

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First Chapter, above, Edinburgh — I map out each page, do the illustrations, and paste  in the text:

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The yellow Post Its (above, recto side — right hand page) show me how I need to format text when I do my next re-write. But since the illustration is the easy part, and since every writer worth her salt procrastinates the act of writing as long as possible, I do the illustrations first:

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This is the title page for the Rio de Janeiro chapter (above), and a two-page spread for the Rio garden for which I have not yet written text (below):

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Two page-spread for Key West:P1190087

More Key West with me being ever so clever with the horizon across two pages:

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Japanese garden pics, with space for text:

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London garden chapter:

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Ahhhhh, New Orleans:

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And a garden here on Long Island:

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You can see that I’ve tried to vary the way I do illustrations, give the reader a “chocolate box” reading experience (you never know what’s going to pop up, not literally, when you turn the page).

But I can not emphasize enough how horrible it is to write a book. I’ve been at it for a year and I am just now getting the hang of it. Last month I was so discouraged that I Googled my mood: miserable gardener. I wanted to see who out there in the universe shared my pain. Try it. Google miserable gardener and see what you get.

Alright, I’ll tell you. Here’s what you get:

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The miserable gardener is a pure bred border collie named Chess who gardens and blogs in the desert of Colorado. HE IS AMAZING. In addition to all kinds of expert info about Colorado gardening, Chess also blogs about the bunnies in his backyard:

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It’s been very hot in Colorado and this is how a bunny keeps cool.

And get ready for unbearable cuteness…Chess also blogs about     Baby      Bunnies:

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AND AND AND, recently Chess had a blog about something I’ve never ever ever seen before…

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BABY     BLUE     JAYS.

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I could keel over from the cuteness. Do drop by The Miserable Gardener (he’s actually not all that miserable) — or you can click here to catch up. You will be glad you did.

Thank you, dear readers, and deepest gratitude to all you wonderful Commentors, for your understanding and empathy for the loss of our dear Oscar. My mother reads this blog and she always tells me that I have the best Commentors on the interwebs. I agree. Merci.

And, since we haven’t painted together recently, I’m going to end this post with a French Quarter illustration I did last week when the writing was going nowhere. It’s times like that when I’m really glad I have a paint brush handy.

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Note the little bit of masking fluid I’ve laid down in the back ground. That little bit is really quite important to the picture. If I don’t get that right, the whole illustration will be useless.

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I find that painting a repetitive form, such as the black lines for these shutters and door frames, is very relaxing:

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It’s time to peel off the masking fluid and see if I can make this illustration work:

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This is a full page illustration — the blank space of the porch (called a gallery in New Orleans) will be filled with text. And yes, I keep a tape measure on my desk to get the dimensions, and I write accordingly. I decided to leave the hanging plant as is, which is very different than what I usually do — as an amateur illustrator I tend to paint a lot of detail; but this time I was struck by the free-ness of this plant so I didn’t go over it as I’d intended, and paint in fronds. I think it still works, as the picture already has enough frou frou with the cast iron, nest-ce pas?

I do not write in the same room in which I paint. How about I give you a tour of my writing room next week? Anybody interested in seeing that?  I will, of course, be accompanied  by my writer’s mandatory  pain-in-the-ass assistant:

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Lickety, showing off his ambidexterity.

Have a wonderful weekend, my dear readers, and see you next Friday.

(Note: Comments are open until 11:59 pm Tuesday, July 30.)

 

 

 

I Probably Shouldn’t Show You this…

My June travels included a trip to Brooklyn, to the Museum of Art in that fair borough. Imagine my surprise when a tour bus pulled up to the entrance…Brooklyn? A tourist attraction? I’m so 1980s in my thinking, when I kew Brooklyn as an outer borough, home to the dreaded bridge and tunnel crowd. Now it’s so hip that tour buses schlepp through its streets.

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I had to take a picture of the Brooklynite who stuck a pose in front of the tourists and stood there giving them a right royal Windsor Wave the whole ten minutes the tour bus was idling in front of one of the world’s greatest museums that hardly anybody goes to. I must say, as a royal watcher from way back, that her form was spot-on: extra points for degree of difficulty (it was hot out there).

And then I went inside to keep a date with John Singer Sargent watercolors.

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John Singer Sargent took his watercolor paints on his vacations and he dashed off  pictures as keepsakes meant just for himself, not for sale. Sargent painted supremely tasteful oil paintings and would never have considered laundry a worthy subject for a painting, but on vacation it looks like he was intrigued by the patterns of shadows on white cloth and the haphazard zig-zag of clothesline that makes a quite jaunty composition:

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The pictures are almost all about the same size, 14″ x  20″  (35cm x 50 cm). And yes, you are allowed to photograph as long as you don’t use flash.

I probably shouldn’t show them to you because this work makes all other watercolor, especially mine, look pathetic. You can tell that Sargent worked quickly because you can see how the paint seems to retain the gesture of the painter as he sweeps his brush to and fro and comes up with THIS:

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Of course I was very interested in Sargent’s garden pictures:

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In this Italian garden (below) I see that Sargent laid down an area of light green paint, on the left side of the picture  and then painted dark green over it, painting the background over the foreground to make a small lemon tree:

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His bold use of a heavy, opaque blue in this picture below is breathtaking:

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There were a number of boat pictures too:

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Again you can see how slap-dash his brush strokes are, and yet with all that rigging and roping Sargent never makes a single wrong slap or dash, and us, the viewers, are never confused or bothered by the busyness — it all makes perfect sense.  Even the way he paints water, with those slashes of color, makes exquisite sense.

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There is a 12 minute film shown at the exhibit of a painter named Monika de Vries Gohlke who narrates on Sargent’s use of color and brushstrokes as she copies his painting of a melon boat (below):

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I thought it was the wrong choice of painting, in that it is almost abstract and it’s not that much fun to watch someone re-paint an abstract picture, so what she talks about is mostly how Sargent blends color, either on the paper or on his brush or by layering. She doesn’t tell why she chose this particular painting, maybe because she didn’t want to have to deal with the masterful structure or the awesome figures Sargent is capable of rendering with minimum amount of paint, but I admire her nerve (I would NEVER let someone film me trying to copy a Sargent!). If you are interested in seeing the film, click on this link here.

Venice is also a big subject in these watercolors. I liked this one (below)  – even though half of this picture is filled with a large, brownish-grey form the total effect is deliciously delicate and atmospheric. How does he do it???

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When he does complicated architecture, all he needs are a few pencil lines to indicate perspective and then he drops in the palest, lightest amount of color and voila:

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This painting of the Alps (below) is mind-boggling. It’s a few swipes of blue and then some jumbled green washing into more blue and the result is genius:

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There were 93 watercolors in all on exhibit, all from a 1909 show of watercolors that Sargent allowed to be shown in New York. He refused to sell them piece-meal; he wanted them sold as a collection. the Brooklyn Museum bought 83 painting for a little over $20,000, and the Boston Museum of Fine Art bought 45 for just over $10,000. In today’s money that equals about $750,000. This is the first time that these two institutions have collaborated on a joint exhibit. I’m glad Sargent got rich from his art. He deserved every penny.

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I probably shouldn’t show you these pictures, either, because they are unbearably cute…but Top Cat was doing yard work last month and he left his shovel out by the shed. For some reason, Oscar (the Mayor of the backyard cats, having been keeping things in order on this block for 16 years, becoming part of our herd when his original people next door moved away three years ago) well, Oscar took a liking to this shovel:

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These photos were taken over a three-week period:

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And this is the last picture I took of Oscar and his friend, Mr. Shovel, on July 9th:P1180869

Sixteen years is a good run, and when Oscar’s liver began to go wrong I am happy to say that he did not suffer through a long illness and we were able to make him comfortable in his last days, and for the first time in the ten years I’ve known him he let me hug him. Oscar passed away last Saturday, July 13, in the vet’s office with me scratching his head and saying his name and telling him that he was one of the best kitties ever. We buried his ashes under that bush, in the photo above, where he liked to snooze and keep an eye on garden tools.

I know that a lot of you reading this have been through the same thing with your own dear sweet kittens. That’s why I’m recommending a book written by a cat lover , the title of which is pretty much the theme of anyone who loves their furry friends:

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I first read this book in 2001, when it came out, and loved it. It’s not morbid at all, but it is the story of finding meaning and healing in the heartbreak of loving these sweet critters, who we know we will outlive, but who we adore while knowing that we will have to be there for them when their time comes, knowing that we want to be there for them…it’s a strange thing we humans do to ourselves, isn’t it?, when we share our lives with companion animals. How brave, how noble, how foolish it is to make ourselves vulnerable to such hurt, over and over. In the end, it’s not too high a price to pay.

But you know that I can’t leave you on that note. Because Stacy Horn has a new book out, which I heard about four times so far on NPR, all about  how to achieve psychological and physiological well being:

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It’s a personal story as well as the story of the history and science of choral singing and why people need — crave — music in their lives. The book is getting rave reviews from the Wall Street Journal (!?) and People magazine and is a hot topic on NPR and other press that you can read on Amazon. Readers, I’d be interested to hear what you think of these books when we’ve all read them.

Stacy also has a blog where she posts pictures of her cats and in-depth digressions on the latest news in singing science, Sex and the City filming in her Greenwich Village  neighborhood, and other oddball and wonderful happenings in New York City. You can catch up with her blog by clicking onto this link here.

Before I go, I have to tell you that this Venice watercolor by John Singer Sargent was sold at Christie’s auction house in November 2011:

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The price was $842,500.

For my next Triscuit, dear reader Joan in Nevada wants me to copy this Sargent painting:

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose 1885-6 by John Singer Sargent 1856-1925

This is his famous Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. It’s a very large oil painting, property of the Tate Gallery in London. (Sargent was a bachelor — those girls are daughters of an artist friend of his.) I’m considering it…

But I leave you today with a tribute to our dear Oscar, with some of the herd he so ably watched over when he was Top Cat Emeritus in our backyard:

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Have a great weekend.

Marrakech Local

This is a special LOVE edition of VivianSwiftBlog today because it was NINE YEARS ago today that Top Cat and I said I DO.

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It was midnight in Las Vegas and Blue Suede Jumpsuit Elvis married us husband and wife. If I had known then what I know now, I would have asked Top Cat to marry me on our second date.

Little did I know, nine years ago, that on my ninth wedding anniversary I’d be blogging about my trip to Tameslouht, Morocco…life is strange.

Tameslouht, according to people who have luxury villas to rent, is a village of extraordinary serenity  just 20km from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech.

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Professional PR photo.

With views of the majestic Atlas mountains, Tameslouht is a place to refresh the soul and contemplate life’s magnificence whilst gazing upon a killer sunset.

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Another professional PR photo.

Blah blah blah…

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Yet another professional PR photo.

…and more blah blah blah plus Rin Tin Tin:

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This is the weirdest professional PR photo of them all.

Tameslouht just might be all that and a box of Cracker Jack, but the day I went there (May 16, 2013) there was nary a ray of golden sunshine in sight:

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It was cool and rainy and the village looked to be deserted:

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This is my perfect May 16 place to be because May 16 is the day on which I, every year since 1975, throw myself a Pity Party.  Everybody should have one day a year  that they devote to a bout of constructive self-loathing and mine is May 16. May 16, 1975 is the day that I left America for my first solo hitch hiking journey in France; I was gone for four months and I was the happiest I’d ever been in all my previous 19 years of life. And every May 16 since then, if I am not on some wonderful, strange, life-altering journey on that day, then I throw myself a Pity Party and wonder why the hell aren’t I on some wonderful, strange, life-altering journey for chrissake.

This year on May 16 I was in Tameslouht. Tameslouht, dear readers, is not a beautiful village. But it beats the crap out of being on Long Island (on May 16) so I was only half-pitiful this year.

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Let’s go look at some doors in Tameslouht seeing as how there is not a whole lot else to do in Tameslouht…

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…whose name I wish I knew the meaning of because that would be the perfect thing to put here right now.

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By the way, “Tameslouht” is pronounced exactly how it’s spelled.

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Having seen a fair amount of Tameslouht, I would say that Tameslouht looks very much like itself:

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And I say that because this (see below)  is the part of Tameslouht…

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…that reminds some people of Persia…

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…namely the good people at Disney who made the 2010 movie Prince of Persia:

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The movie was based on a video game of the same name.

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That’s Tameslouht in the background!

No wonder it flopped. I mean, come on: a video game?? It only made $90 million world wide and these days, that’s a flop. If a book makes one-ten-thousdandths of $90 million it is a New York Times No. 1 bestseller. Not for the first time do I realize I am in the wrong line of  business.

Everything I know about Tameslouht I owe to the delightful Sara Quinn…

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…Peace Corps volunteer extraordinaire who guided me thru the rues of her adopted hometown. In addition to her duties as a teacher of English, Sara and her fiancé, Tameslouht-native Mustafa Ezzarghani put together a marvelous meeting between leaders and members of the Moslem, Christian, and Jewish communities in Morocco:

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You can read the article that Mustafa wrote about the conference for the Morocco World News website here and you can read all about life as a Peace Corps Volunteer/Morroco in Sara’s blog here. Sara and Mustafa went to the Majorelle Garden too!! Read all about their visit here.

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I love reading Sara’s blog because it reminds me of my own Peace Corps Volunteer days, except for the bits where she actually goes out and accomplishes things, and is beloved by her community, and makes important contributions to the cultural and economic advancement of her adopted country…other than that yeah, my Peace Corps experience was exactly like Sara’s.

Because this is a special LOVE edition of VivianSwiftBlog I have to show you this photo from Sara’s blog of April 5, 2013:

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Because this is Mustafa proposing to Sara in a cafe overlooking the Jemaa El Fan in Marrakech:

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Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.  I hope Sara and Mustafa will be as happy as Top Cat and I, nine times nine years.

This is Sara and Mustafa when I met them in Tameslouht:

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With TEA!

I am in the salon of Madame the President of the Tameslouht women’s crafts cooperative, called Creation Tameslouht.

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 Creation Tameslouht has a  Facebook page:

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Madame the President…

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…kindly arranged to give me a private showing in her own home:

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The beautiful hand-embroidered duvet covers…

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…are immaculately sewn with traditional motifs:

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The machine embroidery is very fanciful:

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And I loved the pockets on this traditional robe:

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Which as you can see from these street photos (from Marrakech) are totally authentically Moroccan:

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And the hats!!!  The ones with the large sequins are heavy, but the one with the crazy cute tassels was feather light:

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This cute clutch is only 70 dirham ($9.00), all made my hand:

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And this spiffy beach bag is only 80 dirham and is sooooooo cooooool:

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This is the gorgeous drape/curtain  tie-back that I bought for 100 dirham:

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And then there are the scarves:

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I’ve never seen scarves like this, all woven by hand, that shimmer:

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Or, you can design your own scarf and have it embroidered:

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I bought a scarf with colors that reminded me of blue jays and peacocks and when I went back to Paris I wore it with my Seattle fleece and I was ever so a la mode :

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There’s nothing like going back to Paris after a 48-hour adventure in Morocco…

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…I doubt I would have even noticed, if not for having just been there,  this billboard the Paris metro, shouting Become a LANDOWNER in MOROCCO!! Apartments from 24,000 euros, villas from 100,000 Euros. I guess that Morocco is to Parisians as Tempe AZ is to Detroiters.

After Morocco, all there was left to do in Paris except to make the long good-bye …

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…to a style of living that you can only find in Paris…

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I knew I was going to miss it terribly….

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…but every lighted window of Paris…

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…just made me feel too far away from home…

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Happy Bastille Day, everyone! I hope nobody’s having a Pity Party on July 14 — go get a bottle of champagne and toast your favorite memories of Paris! And if you don’t have a memory of Paris, feel free to borrow any of mine.

And of course we cannot call our visit to Morocco complete without announcing the winner of the Majorelle Triscuit:

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 Top Cat has chosen his random winner and it is:

Bev!

Congratulations, Bev, and please email me your snail mail digits at vivianswift at yahoo, before our next get-together next Friday.

 

 

Marrakech Express.

Marrakech in five words: Not My Cup of Tea.

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I had some trepidations about going to Morocco, alone, having had some previous experience traveling in African and Moslem countries which, being female and an animal lover, did not bode well for this trip. So that’s why I only gave myself 48 hours in Marrakech. It was more than enough.

I had previously arranged to be picked up at the airport (by the way, GORGEOUS airport!!) by the riad, the traditional-style Moroccan villa where I’d be staying, in the kasbah of Marrakech (meaning that I stayed within the walls of the old city):

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Well, as you can see, some of the alleys are too narrow for vehicular traffic so we parked the SUV and walked about three blocks to the doorstep. The only luggage I had was a shoulder bag packed with my iPad and extra undies.  Marrakech Travel Tip No. 1: No matter how crappy the place looks on the outside, it could be AMAZING on the inside:

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Yes, those are rose petals on the bed and on the bathroom sink.

The riad was wonderful, about $120 per night, and having come from cold, rainy Paris it was a delight to see and feel the sun! I went to the rooftop and snooped (I stuck my camera over the five-foot-walls on the rooftop) to see what the neighbors were like:

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And then I had dinner and a quick walk around the kasbah in the twilight. Of course I got lost — all the alleys look the same — until a little boy called out to me, Hey Lady! Vous churchez votre riad?  Yes, it was that obvious that I was lost but I didn’t really want this kid’s help (I know I would have found my way sooner or later) but he led me to my doorstep anyway and then asked for money. I didn’t have any diram on me and I also had no intention of paying him away. Kids should not be begging strangers for money and I don’t care if it IS the third world. I thanked him, told him he was a very nice boy, and locked myself in my room.

The next morning I discovered that I’d forgotten to pack clean socks. Ew. And it was cold and rainy.

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I wandered around the kasbah, looking for my way out. At one point some creep walked up beside me and said, “Bonjour Madame! Remember me? I made you your crepes at the riad!” Of course I did not have crepes at my riad. And he keeps talking to me, about how he can take me to a spice market (You want spices? I  show you  best spices!).

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He went on to tell me that it is a holiday today and all the Berbers were coming down from the mountains to sell their rugs (You want rug? I take you to my friend to see Berber rug!). He was very annoying but I did need to get out of the kasbah so I asked him where I could find a taxi. Where you go?, he asked, and when I said the Jardin Majorelle he said, Oh madame, the jardin is closed today because of holiday, come, we go see Berbers! I hate to admit it, but for an instant I believed him. I had not thought of checking the holiday schedule in Morocco and, having been caught in two bank holidays in Paris the previous week, I thought that it was entirely possible that I’d stumbled into another jour de fete.

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Then I remembered that I was talking to a professional bullshitter so I told him that I was going to the Majorelle anyway and he, catching on that I was not perhaps as dumb as I looked, finally pushed off and I at last found a taxi. I argued the fare down from 100 driam to 30 before I got in the car. This is not my first rodeo. But I was weary of Marrakech already. There is something about walking around rainy streets in dirty socks with a creep yabbering away at you and having a taxi driver try to charge you three times the fair fare that I find very dispiriting.

I had only come to Morocco to visit the Jardin Majorelle and Yay! I was at last on my way! So the closer I got to it, the more beautiful and wondrous Marrakech got!  I love Marrakech! Vicious mood swings: part and parcel of travel.

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LOVE the itty bitty Morris column!

Heart. Be. Still. Here’s the entrance to the Majorelle!!

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And now I am IN the Majorelle!!!

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There’s only a 50 diram entrance fee, about 5 euros/ 8 dollars, which to me is a bargain.

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I was early enough to have beaten the tour buses so, for all intents, I had the place to myself for a half hour or so.

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The Majorelle Garden is the home of a mid-century (active 1920 – 1960) French painter, Jacques Majorelle, whose property was in almost ruin when it was bought by Yves Saint-Laurent in 1980 and restored to its full glory.

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The garden is famous for being, you know, beautiful and unique in Marrakech, but mostly for this shade of blue that Majorelle invented and patented as Majorelle Bleu. It is, as you can see, intensely vivid. Is that redundant?

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The official RGB values of Majorelle Bleu are — Red: 96, Green: 80, Bleu: 220.

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It had actually stopped raining when I took these photos and  the ground crew was mopping up the the walkways. I like to photograph gardens in the rain — cloud cover brings out the color and form of plants and architecture. If it had been a hot sunny day I don’t know if I’d have noticed this neighboring villa outside the garden walls…

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…I wonder what it’s like to have the Majorelle Garden on view from your terrace?

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YSL did a fabulous job as the protector of the Majorelle…

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…although the garden was rarely depicted in the annual Christmas card that YSL designed and sent to his amis each year, a collection which is now exhibited in the “Love” museum on the site…

P1170927…and I’m sure he’d keel over if he saw that the Majorelle gift shop was hawking one of his collages…

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…in the form of a hidiously ugly caftan for about $1800:

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Right after I took this picture the  shop assistant almost tackled me and told me photography was forbidden and she asked me to delete my photos from my camera. “Sure,” I said, giving her me  ”I am as dumb as I look” smile and made my Lumix camera do a few gratuitous beeps and all was forgiven.

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If I had any interest in plants I’m sure I would have found the various plans that were scattered through out the garden helpful:

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Does this (below) look like the plan, above? I read that the gardeners at Majorelle rake the gravel into those little saucer-shaped circles in the ground to catch all available rainfall for each plant:

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Yves Saint Laurent is buried at Majorelle:

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I have read that the garden is ten acres, but that can’t be true. Unless it includes the estate next door, the very private home where YSL actually lived, that is off limits to us peons. My guess is that the garden is about four acres, five tops.

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When the tourists started to arrive by the bus load, I began to snap photos of them. This poor German girl was almost blue with cold, shivering in her little Summer dress in this cool, wet un-Morocco morn:

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By the way, Spanish people from Spain are LOUD. I think they are louder, even, than Americans. Jesus. It seemed like they had to talk to each other at the top of their lungs, but then, they were mostly youngsters in their 20s and I guess they were hollering at each other WHO THE HELL HAD THE BRIGHT IDEA TO COME HERE??? When I was in my 20s, I would not have been caught dead touring a garden.

I think I got the better angle here (see below) than the one these two lovely Italian visitors got (boring straight-on). I like to put my subjects in a setting that makes the most OF THE SETTING. Right?

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I was in Majorelle-world for approx. 90 minutes. By the time I left the place was hopping:

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At the entrance kiosk, 11-ish.

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This guy, above, had good-looking horses…but further down the avenue I saw a man viciously yanking on the bridle of his horses to make their heads snap back (and they were “parked”, not even moving) so I to scream at him. I couldn’t help myself. I can scream OK in French but I’d rather use the “F” bomb in English when I do my “crazy lady” act. I was back to hating Marrakech again, and henceforth I had to just shut my eyes whenever I saw horses coming into view because I can’t go around Marrakech screaming at people like a crazy lady. It’s so, how you say…ungracious.

The story of the excellent adventure that I had after I left the Majorelle will have to wait for another day (please vote in the Comments: do you want to see what the creations of an all-women’s crafts co-operative in a Moroccan village 20 kms outside of Marrakech looks like??).

But after that unpleasantness about the horses you, dear readers, deserve a great cat story. And here it is:

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This story comes to you under the auspices of  the delightful Sara Quinn, of Peace Corps Morocco/Tameslouht, who guided me through the souk of Marrakech the next day.

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I really didn’t have any great curiosity about the souk — if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all and I’ve already seen the ones in Tunis, Niamey, and the Palestinian side of Jerusalem — but Sara included a spin in the souk in her extensive tour of Marrakech and I gladly followed in her wake.

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There are a lot of cats, footloose and fancy, in Marrakech:

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And when Sara and I came across this kitty in the souk…

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…my heart melted. This guy in the white coat was selling chopped up meat (I did not look closely to see what kind of meat, but it was probably sheep or goat) and I asked Sara if she thought it would be OK if I bought some meat to feed the cat. I asked because she knows the culture and I didn’t know if buying people food for a stray cat was gauche or not and whenever I am not screaming at assholes who beat horses I try to be culturally appropriate. So Sara walks over to the guy and asks him in fluent Moroccan Arabic (known as Darija) if it was OK if her dopey American friend could buy meat for the cat.

And this dear man answers  NO!   Turns out that I can’t buy meat because he keeps cat food with him in the stall!  And he reaches into a big bag behind his counter and he gives me a handful of cat food so I can feed the cat!

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He was smiling and chatting away with Sara about how he likes the market cats and I took this picture so I will always remember this nice guy who is kind to cats. I am back to thinking that Marrakech is an OK place after all.

The day before, on a tour of her “home” town of Tameslouht,, Sara had assured me that Moroccans in general like cats but, well, I had to see it with my own eyes. And I do have to say that on my solo rambles in the medina, whenever I stopped to take a photo of a cat, people around me yelled for other people to get out of the way, the lady wants to take a picture of the cat!

So, all in all, Marrakech might not be my cup of tea, but I rate it highly as probably the best place to be a cat in North Africa. (P.S. I met a German traveler in Tameslouht who told me that if I like cats, I have to go to the Moroccan sea side town of Essaouria; the cats there are the fattest he’s ever seen. Has anybody reading this ever been to Essaouria? Have you seen the tubby moggies there???).

As I write this, I’m thinking that I might have to give Marakech another try. This is my way of telling you, dear readers, that my heart was full of love when I painted my Marrakech Triscuit, a portrait of the lily pond at the Majorelle Garden:

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I still get emails asking me what a “Triscuit” is, so here’s a shot of a “Triscuit” by another name:

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Maybe I should have called my itty bitty watercolor pictures “Tea Bags” from the start. Oh well. Too late now.

You can own this Majorelle Triscuit by leaving a Comment to this post before the blog “closes” on midnight Tuesday and as usual, Top Cat will chose a Comment at random and the winner will be announced next week.

Oh, by the way, I have an announcement on the Monet Triscuit that I gave away two weeks ago:

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This Triscuit was not claimed (WTF?) so……the new winner of this Triscuit is:

Joan in NV!

Joan, please send me your mailing address to vivianswift at yahoo before next Friday!

Merci!

 

 

 

It’s True. I Paint Like a Writer.

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Yes, we will be painting together in this post just like olde tymes. But first: YAAAAAA-HOOOOOOOO!!!!! No More Damn DOMA!!!!  Slowly, slowly, this country will be dragged, kicking and screaming, into Enlightenment.  And to the Christian lady from Philadelphia on NPR who said that the Bible says that marriage is between a man and a woman and truth doesn’t change...

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This is my first try at painting the Chelsea Physic Garden deep in the heart of London. Yeah, it stinks. Those buildings do NOT look like multi-million dollar Victorian townhouses that comprise one of the UK’s most posh neighborhoods.

…um, didn’t the “truth” change in that very same Bible, with a so-called “new” testament? I’m just asking.

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This is attempt No. 2, where you can see how I tried to be more “impressionistic” with the buildings in the background. Yeah, this stinks too. But I was hoping the flowers in the foreground would save me. They didn’t.

The truth is that “truth” changes all the time and if we hold on to “truth” then we’d all still believe that the Sun revolves around the Earth and that cancer is caused by demons. Let’s get with it! Let’s commit to never searching for the real truth!  And let’s get enlightened!

There. I got that out of my system. Now, where were we? I believe we were headed towards Paris…

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Here we are on the Pont des Arts, in 2005, before it became the trashy “Love Lock” bridge. I am so very lucky to have known this bridge when its elegant lines were free of tourist clutter. Sigh.

I admit, I am slow. It wasn’t until I had completely disgusted myself with my first two attempts to portray London architecture that I REMEMBERED that I have already faced this challenge before. Since I am not gifted in understanding buildings I paint around that shortcoming by doing what I AM good at: linear drawing, like I did here, for my book Le Road Trip (this, above, is the publisher’s proof of pages 190 – 191 for those reading along). All I have to do is paint the buildings in silhouette. Problem solved.

In fact, I suddenly remembered that I’d already solved this problem once before in my ow Damn Garden Book:

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This is the title page for the Edinburgh chapter. Note the city skyline in the background. Duh.

So I sketched out the buildings that surround the Chelsea Physic Garden in London…

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…and all I have to do is keep it away from my helper kitties who love nothing more than getting their paws on my works-in-progress…

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The next several pictures will be of my renewed attempt to paint the Chelsea Physic Garden but I’ll tell you right now (spoiler alert) that it doesn’t turn out right:

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I like the white space here. I’m going to work with this look later.

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I call this Failure No. 3

Unfortunately, this (see above) is not how the Chelsea Physic Garden is laid out. Those of you who have been to this lovely 4-acre walled garden founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries as a teaching garden where medicinal plants were cultivated will know that I’m trying to paint the quadrant known as the Systematic Order Beds, which actually look more like this:

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I call this Failure No. 4

There still isn’t something quite right. So let’s have one more go at it:

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This is IT.

I finally got the Chelsea Physic Garden that I wanted. This picture only took about four hours to paint, not counting the four previous attempts that cost me about 20 hours of my life. Fact is, I’m a better miniaturist when it comes to painting gardens…

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I prefer to tell visual stories in little bits at a time…

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I write the same way I paint. I keep at it, hacking away again and again and again until I finally manage to say what I’ve been trying to say all along. The same way that I tend to re-paint, I don’t write as much as I re-write. I finally ditched the Pages word processing program that I bought for my new Apple computer last Summer and installed good old Microsft Word last month and I AN IM HEAVEN! I have been happily, happily re-writing everything I wrote on Pages and after a year and a half I have, at last, a first chapter that I’m actually going to let Top Cat read. Nine more chapters and I have the book DONE!

Writing and painting are similar in that to get anything done, you have to be very sensitive to your shortcomings and avoid any picture or paragraph that lets those shortcomings hang out. By painting or writing to your strong points, you develop a style that is uniquely your own. The next series of pictures is of me painting a typical London view, but painting it in a way that highlights my strong points (and hides my weaknesses). Notice how I work front-to-back in this one:

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By the way, I later added people walking on the sidewalk to give a sense of scale. This is the actual view from my friend Wendy’s brother’s flat in Knightsbridge:

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Since I already know that I can’t paint architecture, I’m going to leave those buildings white. Voila: a style.

This tactic seems to work well for London…I wonder how it will work for Giverny? Because I have my heart set on painting this view:

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Ahhhh…the “paintbox” flower beds.

It might even be my nest Triscuit. Which reminds me! We have a Triscuit to give away!! 

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WOW! I had to ask Top Cat to pick a number between 1 and 56…56!!!  Your Comments were just great last week and I’m still re-reading them  (a Van Gogh Triscuit must be in my future) so thank you, thank you, thank you to all who left a word or two. And just to show you how unpredictable Top Cat can be, when I asked him to chose that number of which he had 56 to choose from, he chose…Number One. So this Monet Triscuit goes to Carol Wall of Vancouver! (Carol please send me your mailing info to vivianswift at yahoo before this Comment section closes at midnight Tuesday, July 2/3!!)

Next week, we head out on another road trip. We’re going to see this garden:

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It’s time to go to Marrakech!

 

Giverny’s Back Roads

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???