The More Things Don’t Change, The More They Stay The Same.


Have you ever tried to paint like Claude Monet? If so, did you attempt one of his huge “Grand Decoration” canvases?

I know, from experience, that using watercolors to copy an oil painting is hard. . .

. . .  so before I took on this scene of Monet’s waterlilies. . .

. . . I practiced:

If I were using oil paint, it would be easy to layer green on top of pink, but when it’s watercolor you have to be very careful because if you let them bleed too much into one another, all you get is a muddy brown soup.

I don’t have any “in progress” photos to show you because I was so sure that this would come out crappy and, in fact, for most of the time I was painting this Monet-esque pic, it did look like crap. I kept losing my place because I had to paint the greens separately and they didn’t make sense to me until very late in the game:

I don’t know if this is how Claude experienced his pictures, but for me it all came together only after I’d added the pink and blue water bits. Then I could see that where this pic was going.  Then I removed the resist that I’d applied to mask out the lily pads:

OK, now it look like a lily pond.

By the way, Monet cheats! If you look carefully at his later paintings, you’ll see that he outlines his lily pads, he doesn’t shadow them, which I call cheating! But I won’t complain too much because outlining them makes painting these things a whole lot easier. Also, Monet was in his 80s when he was painting these enormous murals, and was world famous and stinking rich, so he could outline anything he damn pleased, right?


I learned quite a lot about Monet’s methods, and this is not as bad as I thought it was going to be for my first attempt. I am ready to do this again because now I know better where the darks and lights go, and how to use the paint to make the “water surface” shimmer the way Monet does, and make the colors richer and more subtle. (I think.)

Believe it or not, Monet actually sketched out these murals before he painted them:

Obviously, Monet’s sketched in a language that only he could understand. But maybe “sketched” is not the right word; maybe he “mapped” out his paintings beforehand. We will never know: Monet was famously reticent about his process, and he never took pupils or taught anyone (except for his step-daughter, Blanche, but I can’t imagine that he was anything more than an encouraging pater to her). And Monet also lied: he claimed never to work in a studio but he completed almost ALL of his paintings indoors. So, maybe his “sketches” are just scribbles that he jotted to make people wonder what on Earth he was up to.

Scribbles and Earth: do you know about the Nazca lines?

These grand earthworks were scratched into the Nazca Desert in South America approximately 2,000 years ago. The large-scale drawings  depict animals, plants, imaginary creatures and geometric figures that are miles long. The Nazca lines stretch across an area of about 280 square miles in a remote part of Peru.

The first mention of the Nazca Lines in print was by the conquistador Pedre Cieza de Leon in his book of 1553, where he described them as trail markers. They were not fully understood as being earthworks until the 20th century, and are still being studied as the most mysterious remnants of a long-lost desert culture.

UNESCO celebrates the Nazca site as “the most outstanding group of geoglyphs anywhere in the world and are unmatched in its extent, magnitude, quantity, size, diversity, and ancient tradition to any similar work in the world.” In short, the Nazca lines are awesome.

On January 27, 2018, a 40-year old dipshit named Jainer Vigo drove a semitrailer . . .

. . . off-road into the Nazca Desert and plowed thru the fragile topsoil . . .

. . .  and “significantly” damaged three geoglyphs. The dips hit driver claimed that he had mechanical problems and didn’t know the area and didn’t see all the signs warning him against trespassing on this World Heritage Site. But the truth is that he drove off the nearby Pan-American Highway to avoid paying a toll.

Anyway, this dipshit was picked up by Peruvian police and brought before a magistrate, but the magistrate concluded that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to indicate the driver acted with intent, so he was released. Thankfully, someone in the local prosecutor’s office has half a brain and it was announced that the local prosecutor’s office was appealing the judge’s decision, and is seeking nine months of preventive detention and a $1,550 fine while the investigation continues.

I ask you: Why in the world would intent matter in this case?

It’s the same thing as when I watch a defendant on Judge Judy explain why he or she should not have to pay for the damages to the plaintiff’s car because “I didn’t hit that car and smash it to smithereens on purpose!”

I also ask you: Is anyone willing to be held accountable these days?

Such as the Republican party? I only ask since the NRA (National Rifle Association) spent a stupendous $54.4 million in the 2016 election cycle, almost all of it in “independent expenditures,” meaning spending for or against a candidate but not a direct contribution to a campaign. The money went almost entirely to Republicans to a degree that almost looks like a misprint (but isn’t): Of independent expenditures totaling $52.6 million, Democrats received $265. Yes, that’s 265 dollars. [P.S. I have another source that states the NRA gave $106 hundred thousand to Democrats in 2016. It’s still a ridiculous shit-load less, but not the shit-load less that $265 would be.]

The NRA spent more than $30 million to help elect der Drumpf, which includes the $19 million it spent in attack ads against Hillary Clinton.

Thanks to an extensive history of NRA support for Republicans in state legislatures who push through very lax gun ownership laws, a November 2012 Congressional Research Service report found that, as of 2009, there were approx. 310 million firearms in the United States: 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles, and 86 million shotguns.

PARKLAND, FL – FEBRUARY 15: A police check point near the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed by a gunman on February 15, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Of those 310 million firearms that are owned by citizens of the United States, approx. 3.5 million of them are AR15s, which we all know is the favorite weapon of school shooters.

I know that you, Dear Readers, are as depressed as I am. I want to give up. Because now that Republicans have normalized this crazy level of gun ownership in America, mass shootings is what happens. I want to tell you, do not wring your hands and weep and wail and pray for the dead. Nothing is going to change. This is the country that we live in, thanks to the NRA and their Republican allies: in Pew’s latest poll (June, 2017) on gun control, 79% of Republicans favored protecting gun ownership rights over limiting gun access. That compares with 20% of Democrats who felt the same way.

But, then, there’s this:

On Tuesday evening, candidate Margaret Good won a special election for state representative in southwest Florida’s House District 72, becoming the 36th flip for the Democratic Party since President Donald Trump took office last year.

The Democrat won by a margin of almost 8 points and more than 3,000 votes—in the same district der Drumpf clinched during the 2016 presidential elections by 5 points.

I don’t want to get too hopeful here. But maybe there is reason to hope.

I don’t know if you can tell that I started writing this post on Tuesday (it takes days to do one of these posts), when it was going to be all about painting a la Monet and defending Nazca lines. I was also going to chime in on the new portraits of the Obamas for the Smithsonian (his is OK but the painter is a certifiable creep, and hers just plain stinks).

Then the heart-breaking events of Wednesday changed everything and I had to detour into bitter reality. If we lived in a normal, progressive, civilized country, I would not have had to write about people dying in droves again; I would have ended this week’s light hearted get-together this way:

The only reason I know about the Nazca lines at all is because I was reading the lovely book by the elegant travel writer Bruce Chatwin, which you can see in the above photograph. That’s my thermos of hot sweet tea, and my other thermos of ice water on the desk that I sit at when I am on duty at my new volunteer job at a charity book shop. (Things were pretty quiet last Saturday. It rained.)

And until we meet back here next Friday, when I will tell you all the power trips and intrigues of running a charity book shop, please please please paint, or make an earthwork, hug your kitties and smooch your DoGs, make a vodka and champagne cocktail (I have a recipe), do whatever you need to do to stay sane in this nut-job country of ours.

Australians: Stay cool and thank your lucky stars of the southern cross that you are not us.


12 Comments, RSS

  1. Kirra

    It is very sad Vivian, that the USA is a country where mass shootings happen regularly. You’re right I think that it’s the reality but it’s also pretty freaky to think about. As an Australian it just seems totally bizarre, but really it shows how much money influences politics in this day and age.

    I think your Monet painting looks great! I like that he fibbed away when he was famous. A podcast I listen to have a theory that old people just make stuff up all the time. I agree the Obama paintings don’t really grab me either.

    Enjoy your book shop volunteering! Even if it’s mostly reading and drinking tea. Hope your cats are well too and once again thanks for the blog – best way to celebrate Friday and the coming weekend!

  2. America does not love its children very much….nuff said.
    Bruce Chatwin rules -such a splendid writer -sadly no longer with us.
    Have you read Patrick Leigh Fermoy – I think you would like him very very much.

  3. Jean

    I liked everything about today’s get together, Republican Jesus is new to me but hilarious. I would like for every Christian to stipulate that Jesus was, indeed, a Democrat and see how many stampede out of church to convert to Scientology.

    Pretending that this is a usual Friday, I reread the non-NRA parts and imagined that I live in a normal, civilized country where Monet and Nazca are the only things I have to think about for the half hour we keep company. I like your Monet painting and I was interested to find out that he embroidered on the truth. Kirra has made an interesting point, maybe old people do make up stuff all the time, I will know when I’m old, I guess.

    I would like to know if the earth in Peru can be raked back into place to correct what the truck tires did. If they (“they”)can put the nose back on the Pieta, then surely someone can smooth over these terrible ruts.

    Your book store job is my wish fulfillment. I too like Bruce Chatwin, he does go well with a rainy day.

  4. Becky

    I missed commenting on the last post so I will start off with think about adopting a dog. (. It is the year of the dog) They love love love you and remind you in hateful times to enjoy life around you. My sweetheart kisses me after I feed her or give her a treat she is so grateful…..(or maybe she thinks she’ll taste leftover food on my lips….HA HA HA).
    I adore you Monet paintings. It looks so hard to get the soft effect ….You did a beautiful job. I did not know he painted his works in the studio…I always thought he did all his work plein aire.
    That was a terrible story aboutNasca site. What a creep. It makes me sick that some people show such a lack of responsibility and caring.

    As for the shooting……Steve Hartman did a soulful commentary on this when the last one occurred…..we grieve…..we pray for the dead and the survivors…..rail it should never have happened …..and do it all over again. I see in our local news a church in a neighboring town is going through drills on how to act if there is an active shooter in the church. This is crazy!!
    We are having a special election in a close district to replace a scumbag republican who was anti abortion but wanted his mistress to get one……we are hoping the dem will win this election.
    Our hope lies in the dems winning seats. The republicans have sold their souls.
    I have my furry sweetheart beside me with her head in my lap. (She is 65 lb)….she is the best. We are watching it rain and enjoying the Olympics.

  5. I hope we get to see more step-by-step pics when you do your next water lilies, though why you should need to is beyond me, as the first one is so lovely.

    Of the many jobs I’ve had, my favorite was the four years spent in a secondhand bookstore (for profit), surrounded by books, chatting with the other book-loving staff and customers, getting first dibs on any books people brought in to sell. It was heaven–except for the owner, who was a pure businessman (and a dipshit) who didn’t read anything but comics and who routinely tried to rip people off (both staff and customers). We staffers called him the Waste of Space. I’m looking forward to hearing about the charity shop intrigues!

    Re: the Republicans repeated claims that “it’s not a gun issue–it’s a mental health issue”: please show me the statistics on the number of mentally ill people who committed mass murder armed only with a knife or a big stick. Because I know where *I’d* like to shove a big stick. Thank you.

  6. Thea

    I sit this very writing moment in the San Diego Floral Association library here in Balboa Park, We have shelves of duplicate and donated books for sale. I must enjoy presiding here as I’ve sat in this chair behind this desk every Friday afternoon for years, so long that I ignore power plays and intrigues.
    Bruce Chatwin *is* a lovely writer. I don’t know if he was certifiable, but in his private life he put innocent lives at risk.
    I too endorse the writings of Patrick Leigh Fermoy.
    Ah, Republican Jesus. Thank you for the introduction.

  7. Megan

    Well i shouldn’t speak for Jesus, however I think he would not be happy about that… wasn’t there something about turning the other cheek not pulling out an assault rifle and getting even? I love the thought that Jean has about stampeding Christians, I think Jesus sounds like a bit of a socialist, out to help the downtrodden. What can you possibly say about another school shooting? This is the first time I have heard dissent, the bereaved seem to be saying we don’t want the politicians platitudes but we want action on gun ownership and we want it now. I hope this is going to be a campaign that will grow and grow. Dogs are indeed funny creatures ours has an upset stomach and is being starved she is so sad, the cat is commiserating by head bumping her between stuffing his face with cat found from the never emptying cat food bowl. My friends eight year old daughter wants to own a book shop when she is older, she will write all the books herself. Hope you enjoy your volunteering it sounds marvellous and such an attractive setting.

  8. Wasn’t particularly fond of the paintings of the Obamas, but love your Monet paintings so much.
    I had heard of that truck driver and I don’t believe him. I just can’t believe anyone is that stupid, but then
    we have a government right now of stupid. Praying and hoping for elections to turn the tides and make our world a better place. It’s got to happen, PLEASE!

  9. I can’t add anything about the NRA except to say I think we are right to be hopeful. The Monet painting turned out well! And that story about the Nazca lines was so crazy — apparently this guy wasn’t the first to drive off the road in that area. I’m guessing a lot of people try to get around that toll. The authorities said the lines could be “repaired,” but still…

  10. I think we’ve been hugging a lot of people this past week… there are no words. Only actions and even those seem to be ineffective. But I digress. Duck and cover — remember? Well, if someone said “nukes don’t kill people, people do” you’d just laugh. (Saw that on FB) But you it about guns and boatloads of folks chime in demanding their rights. Well, people can’t kill as much with respectable gun control, checks and what’s with assault weapons? You want the little handgun for your purse (why?) or the rifle for deer hunting (run, Bambi, run!) OK. Not my thing, but OK. But who needs one of those assaults? OK, now I’m really done.

    I love your pink water. If that’s needing a do-over, well, you know best. But I know I love it! I’ll hope you show photos of the do-over, though!

    What is with Michelle’s painting? She’s such a vibrant woman, so lovely with such strength. And this is just not her. His is OK. But hers? There are a lot of wonderful artists who could have used that commission to better purpose.

    I don’t know Nacza (but that’s pretty awful) but I do know bookstores and I think I could fall into that job with good form. Can’t wait to hear more.

  11. Long ago I visited those gigantic Monets in the Orangerie in Paris, and as I looked at them was OVERCOME with drowsiness, as were my companions. We looked around and everyone was sitting on benches half asleep or entirely asleep. As soon as we went out into the gardens we woke up. And it wasn’t jet lag, we were on a long trip. We have always wondered what it was about those paintings (or if there was a release of sleeping vapor into the large hall). I’ve seen many other Monet expos and it never happened another time. Your mini-mural is neat.

    I am unable to think about Florida and the implications for the future. Your ability to face up to it is admirable.

    Bruce Chatwin: difficult writer. He always seems to promise enormous insights, to be fascinating for a while, and then start just writing down his reading notes without much there. I think this is true for Patagonia and also for Songlines. Utz is better. Wonder if you agree.

    best… mae at

  12. I often don’t like modern portraits because probably I should have been born in an age when art looked like what it was supposed to be, and that portrait of Michelle does not look like her. And I don’t understand why she’s wearing a dress from a 1980s music video. To me, it looks like a painting of her that someone would paint who DIDN’T like her. I’d rather see Cubist Michelle in vibrant colors and a shoutout to her forearms and cheekbones, which are works of art themselves.

    Yes to everything you say about the NRA and 7 Wonders-style dipshit drivers and water lillies and everything else. (I went to a silent reading party at the Sorrento recently and thought of you. If there were guns or bad art there, I did not notice.)

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