monet

Marrakech in five words:  Not   Everyone’s   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!

 

 

 

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WIP is the term that we procrastinators use when we discuss our “Work In Progress”.  Today’s post is going to be a long one because the more time I spend on my blog the less time I have to sit around cursing at my  blank sheet of WIP because the angels are not dictating their lyrical prose to me and I have to actually do all the excruciating work on my own and write the damn thing. Also, there will be a trip to the Met museum in NYC and some talk-back to all the wonderful Commentors from my post about the Barnes Foundation and bad art two weeks ago… so make a cup of tea, have a seat, and expect to mosey with me for the next ten or fifteen minutes.

About my WIP garden book, here are two photos of moi feeding koi (fat gold fish) last year at a Japanese Stroll Garden in my neck of the woods on the north shore of Long Island:

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Koi are the greediest fish I’ve ever met. When they know there’s kibble to be had (official Japanese Stroll Garden kibble — I didn’t pitch bread crumbs in there) they will climb over each other and leap out onto the bank of the pond with their mouths wide open to gasp for a treat. I was enchanted.

What you can’t see in this photo montage set-up is that there is a fence in the background, behind the bamboo, that forms the western edge of this garden — I mention it because I’m using that fence as a prominent feature in my illustration WIP (below).

So, to begin, I make a few very faints guide-lines to show me where I’m going to put stuff in this landscape. My pencil lines have to be very light because I will be painting over them and I don’t want them to show through my watercolor — I hope you can see them here:

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I’m mostly excited about doing the koi, which I sketch in like this:

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Next, I put masking fluid over the troublesome areas:

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Now, I have never painted a koi pond before, but I know I want a very watery, paint-y looking effect so I use my fattest brush and keep the surface very wet while I lay in various colors in a swirly motion:

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I had to work very quickly here so I didn’t take photos, but I hope this close-up helps:

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Now I put watercolor over the masking fluid for the first bunch of high grass that I have to paint:

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Then I peel off the masking fluid and use my itty bittiest brush to paint each stalk of grass:

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Yes, I’m using black paint for lots of contrast:

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For the wall of bamboo in the background I want to let the paint do a lot of the work so I dab dark green paint over a wet wash of yellow, letting the bleeds describe the foliage:

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I peel off the masking fluid on another bunch of high grass…

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… and repeat what I did previously:

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Then I peel off the last bits of masking fluid and I’m ready to finish the background details and fill in the last bit of foreground and start painting the FUN stuff!  Lily pads and FISHES!

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Voila — here’s the finished picture with tea bag for size reference (perched where the garden book text for this illustration will go):

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Again, here’s a look at the original inspiration, just to show you how interpretive my illustration is:

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As you can see, you have to edit (or, interpret, as museum folks say these days) when you use reference pix — and isn’t it great the way these reference pix came together in a way that happily lent themselves to a composition were I had to have a blank area for text??  I love it when life and art work out this way.

Speaking of editing and interpreting…that’s what the Matisse show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is all about. The show is called Matisse, In Search of True Painting

This is a beautifully curated show (and I NEVER call ANY show “beautifully curated”).

You are not allowed to take photos in the galleries so keep in mind that I am hiding my camera in my pocket as I shoot these, to show you how finished Matisse paintings are hung alongside Matisse’s WIP sketches so you can see his thought process as he edits and experiments:

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Oh,Beautiful Gallery Girl, I want to come back as you in my next life:

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This is what attracted her attention:

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Even the wall text in this exhibit was very well done — giving you dates and places of each painting (see two versions of a table-top still life below) without the usual long-winded editorializing, simply letting the viewer make her own interpretations and associations to form one’s own relationship with the art. I think that’s what Commentors Bobbi and Marguerite  and Chel were getting at in my post about the filthy over-mediated experience that is forced upon a viewer at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia (see my post Eye of the Beholder).

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To Commentors Vicki in Michigan, Gigi, Sandy R, Christine, and Jeannie who might be avoiding the Barnes because of my complaints about it, I must say that it’s not an entirely worthless experience (as long as you don’t get snookered into taking a docent tour) because at the very least it is interesting to see such a strong point of view in a private collection. I just happen to think that Dr. Barnes’s point of view is almost entirely wacky. Because, as Commentor 365 Dresses wrote, when you hoover up as much stuff as Dr. Barnes did on his purchasing sprees in the 1920s and ’30s, you’re bound to get lucky — but that hardly makes you a connoisseur.

Back at the Met, I wish I’d got a better shot of this guy’s sweater because it was fabulous:

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Commentors Laura and Janet B. mentioned the documentary that was made about the Barnes Foundation about how the city of Philadelphia broke the tenets of Dr. Barnes’s will to move his collection from its private quarters in the Philadelphia suburbs to downtown Philadelphia, called Art of the Steal . I’ve seen it, and  I have to say that I can’t really get all that upset about it. So some millionaire’s will, made in snotty revenge  against the Philadelphia establishment, got betrayed by some half-assed social-climbing executor? Talk about having First World problems!

I ask you: How can you go to the Met to see Matisse, in Search of True Painting without taking a quick trot through its other galleries?  You can easily avoid Renoir and Cezanne to wander in  rooms full of Van Gogh!

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See this girl, taking shots of the art with her iPad:

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I have to learn how to do this!  And OMG OMG — the Monets!

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In this one corner you have about $170 million worth of excerpts Monet’s most famous serieses (plural series), from left to right: The Houses of Parliament in London, Rouen Cathedral, Haystacks in Normandy, and Poplars in Giverny. I do not know why they are not in their chronological order, which would be Haystacks, Poplars, Rouen Cathedral, London, BTW. And of course there are lots o’ water lilies:

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Thank you, other Beautiful Gallery Girl, for wearing your Monet Water Lily-matching outfit:

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And since I’ll be spending a few days in Giverny this Spring, I’ll need to steal study Monet’s own garden-painting techniques:

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And for Commentor Kate, who didn’t want us to throw Renoir under the bus, there’s this — his “masterpiece” from the Musee d’Orsay:

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I don’t know…I think it’ll take more than that to change my opinion, or the mind of Commentors Monique, Sandy R, and Joan. I don’t know…it’s awfully busy and froofy, I think. There’s an issue here that I’ve heard referred to on Project Runway, and it’s called “taste level”. I just don’t think Renoir had good taste. Right? Wrong? But I promise you, Kate, that I will go see it when I am in Paris and let you know if it does, face to face, what the magician Penn Gillette says great art should do: Make me a different person.  For Commentor Sally, I’ll also look up that Hanged Man by Cezanne whilst I’m there, see if that does the other thing that great art is supposed to do…challenge one’s map of reality.

Thank you, Commentor Tracey, for the tip about the up-coming show at the Brooklyn Museum this Spring about the watercolors of John Singer Sargent — I seem to be on a whole new kick lately where I actually leave the house once and a while (see above). Next stop, Brooklyn!

And now, I want to show you what I skipped over at the beginning of this blog post, when I painted my koi pond. Here’s a quick step-by-step re-creation of how I did it, in case you’re curious:

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I started with a dab of blue from my chalky Grumbacher paints before I switched to my grown-up Windsor Newton watercolors (sometimes I like the paleness of the Grumbacher paints):

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The secret is to keep everything constantly wet wet wet:

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After adding a bit more Grumbacher blue…

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I dip into the Windsor Newton cobalt for real depth:

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Drying off the brush like this …

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…lets you go back and pick up paint, to create highlights where necessary:

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Now going in with lots and lots of blue and green on the brush:

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Just let the paint and the water do what it wants to do. Let it sit there, and air-dry. It’s all that air-drying that is the reason why it took me three hours to paint my koi pond illustration (at the top of this post). You can’t hurry this step of the process:

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And then I paint in the koi/gold fish and I sign it:

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If you think it would be helpful to see this little dab up close I will gladly give this away to whoever is interested. If by chance there is more than one of you dear readers who want to get up-close and personal with my koi, I will gather your names and let Top Cat choose one at random. Just leave a Comment below (sorry; I have to close the Comments after five days) to let me know if you’d like me to send you this koi pond — or just drop a note to let me know that I haven’t bored you to death with this loooooong post.

Next week I promise I won’t rant on and on and on and on and on….

 

 

 

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