Wednesday, November 29, 2006

And I Thought MY Studio Was a Mess...

(....well actually I don't think my studio is ever really a mess, I just needed a subject heading.)

Here is Francis Bacon's studio, just as it was when he died, taken apart in London and completely reconstructed in the Dublin City Gallery. It was a good thing there was glass between me and the exhibit, because I might have had to start arranging things. Like those papers on the floor --talk about a fire hazard! But apparently this was the way he liked to work, in a certain chaos. It was certainly interesting to see, especially because it was really very tiny, not at all a huge space like you imagine most famous painters to work in. From what I read, Bacon worked almost exclusively from photos and images, rarely from life. But then, that makes sense, because where would the model go? And who would agree to pose for any length of time in such a pigsty? Posted by Picasa

Anyone Care to Translate for Me?

This is the holiday sign in Gaelic I mentioned. I never did find out what it meant. Wasn't Gaelic connected to a Pagan religion? I mean, wasn't it pre-Christmas? So wouldn't it say "Happy Solstice" or something like that? Or perhaps it just says, "Bailey's Irish Cream" and I'm inventing the whole holiday angle. I'd love for someone to enlighten me on this. By the way, the Irish don't call their language "Gaelic", they call it "Irish," and when I said "Gaelic" I got some funny looks. I'd be curious to learn about that distinction and if "Gaelic" is offensive in some way.

So much to learn, and so little discipline to do so. Posted by Picasa


This is one of those speeding Dublin buses I was talking about. I was seriously frightened. Paris traffic seems almost serene in comparison. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Straight Outta Dublin

In spite of the self-consciously ironic name of this blog, I do admit that every once in a while my life might actually verge on being a wee bit (just a wee bit) glamourous. Like last week, when I went on an all-expenses-paid trip to Dublin to finish work on a painting I had done for a family there. For two long days I toiled in a beautiful Georgian townhouse at an impromptu easel, fixing cheekbones and shadows, re-painting the ear, the eyes, and the bridge of the nose, to arrive at a resemblance. Happily, I managed to finish the painting to everyone’s satisfaction, and to celebrate I took an exhilarating two-hour walk (at rush hour no less) through the streets of Dublin, soaking up the sights and sounds of this small but very energetic city.

There is always something magical about discovering a new place, and Dublin has magic to spare. In the fading afternoon light I walked across the canal and to St Stephens Green, up Grafton Street where the Christmas decorations were already hung (and the holiday greetings were in Gaelic), past Trinity College and then along O’Connell Street, “one of the widest streets in Europe” (it actually didn’t seem that wide but it was nice to see anyway). I visited the reconstructed painting studio of Francis Bacon at the Dublin City Gallery (amazing!), bought shampoo and ear plugs at Boots, and ate a huge bowl of salmon ramen at a wonderful semi-fast-food Japanese restaurant called Wagamama (exactly the kind of place I long for in Paris). Even the Starbucks had character, with local poetry on the wall and the best morning muffins I’ve ever tasted.

Aside from almost getting killed by speeding doubledecker buses going in the "wrong" direction, I felt welcomed and at home in Dublin. No doubt this is partly because Dublin reminds me so much of Boston and Cambridge, where I grew up. There was something very gratifying about finally seeing the homeland of all those Irish-American kids I went to grammar school with – the ones who used to pinch me for pronouncing my r’s and for not wearing green on St Patrick’s Day (OK, as a matter of fact they would savagely beat me up, but we almost always ended friends). It was wonderful to hear the beautiful music of the Irish accent (so much softer and prettier than the Boston accent), and be treated to such quaint expressions as “don’t bring apples to the orchard” – which is what the taxi driver said when I mentioned bringing my boyfriend back with me to Dublin (!!). Of course, between all the Daniel Day-Lewis, Colin Farrell, and Aidan Quinn look-alikes walking around, I might have to take his advice...But seriously, I can't wait to go back.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Chestnuts, Anyone?

Finally the moment has arrived -- it's winter and we are making fires almost every night in our beloved fireplace. For a whopping 260 euros the chimney expert came and cleaned both flues (we also have one in the bedroom), and lit a little smoke bomb to make sure the air was "pulling" right. So now we have stamped approval to make fires to our heart's content. Just let me know when you all want to come visit! Posted by Picasa

Giving Thanks in Gay Paree

Apologies to my vegetarian friends...I realize this is a rather gruesome sight. But this was our turkey yesterday, raised wild on a farm in France somewhere and delivered to the poultry guy across the street at Marche St Quentin (no relation to the prison of the same name). I guess if you're going to eat animals you may as well know that they had heads and necks and feathers and didn't come already wrapped in plastic with a sell-by date.

In addition to turkey (which was delicious by the way), we had cranberry sauce, chive-and-parsley mashed potatoes, a rather viscuous gravy which I made without a recipe (and which probably could have used a recipe), salad (for roughage), and a wonderful sausage and cornbread stuffing that a friend brought. Dessert was pumpkin pie, natch, and -- for the Parisian twist -- a big box of Girard chocolates tied with a copper ribbon, which we were too full to do much but stare at (and which are now hiding on my top shelf where I plan to quietly nibble at them for the rest of the holiday season - thanks M!).

Thanksgiving in Paris is a mixed bag -- on one hand, it's kind of nice to have our own secret holiday among expats, and not feel the pressure of a major holiday breathing down our necks and demanding attention. I mean, if we didn't celebrate, no one would notice or care. So it becomes a fun sort of game instead of an obligation. And the fact that staple items like canned pumpkin and cranberries (once you track them down) cost about 400 percent more than they do in the States is just part of the fun.

On the other hand, as one of our guests pointed out, it feels a little weird to be importing this custom of "making a meal that everyone sits down to eat", because, when you stop and think about it, the French do this practically every day (minus the pumpkin pie of course). Also, since it's not a national holiday here, everyone is at work on Thursday and dinnertime is late in the evening, which doesn't allow for the usual post-thanksgiving digestive coma in front of the television (followed by leftovers and popcorn).

But old habits die hard, almost harder in a foreign place. It just felt natural yesterday to be cracking walnuts and munching olives, waiting for the turkey to be done (or the oven to explode), pondering next year's election in the States, swapping stories, and giving thanks -- for the food, each other, and this cranky old city which brought us all together. Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 06, 2006

I "Break" for Foliage

This weekend I dragged my friend V on an "autumn walk" with me, convinced that if we just took the right combination of public transportation, we would find the colorful turning leaves of my childhood in New England. V gently reminded me that we are in France, not Massachusetts, and although the "global village" may make the world seem smaller, stubborn geographical differences remain -- and this includes trees. Apparently in France there aren't as many of the kinds of trees that radically turn color, at least not near Paris.

We took the train to Fontainebleau anyway, since it was the easiest place to get to without much advance planning. No, it wasn't the foliage extravaganza I'd been hoping for, but the chateau and gardens were beautiful under the hazy november sun. And I developed a fondness for those little cone-tree things. I felt like we were in a royal game of Candyland.

On the way back to the train I did have one authentic foliage moment, with a small maple tree in someone's backyard. I stood there looking up at the golds and oranges and suddenly remembered being four years old in Toledo, Ohio, making a warm fort out of a huge pile of leaves while the temperature hovered near zero...I remembered Halloween and that ill-fated witch's outfit my mother made me with the heavy cardboard hat that was as large as a freeway cone and which I had to hold onto my head with two hands (thus making it impossible to collect candy)...I remembered landscapes of red and yellow and green and brown and purple, seen from a car window on the way to get cider and donuts (the best food in the world up to that moment)...

It's truly amazing how happy autumn makes me, and how even one tree can bring back whole forests of memories...! Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


This little lonely pumpkin was my first "nod" to the season; I never did get around to carving a big one. Now Halloween has come and gone and the fall weather seems here for real. October was just an autumn month in disguise: how could it possibly last? Frankly, I kept waiting for all those sunny warm days to give up the ghost. Now the weather feels more serious, more age-appropriate, if you will. I just took a walk by the canal and there was a distinct chill in the air in spite of the sunshine. You know, that "nippy" temperature in which your middle section is quite warm from walking but your ears feel like someone is pressing packets of frozen peas to them?

Or perhaps it's just me -- I have very sensitive ears and would happily wear earmuffs nine months out of the year if I thought I could get away with it. But earmuffs in Paris, fashion capital of the world? So far I've managed to avoid the wrath of the fashion police for my scuffed shoes, exercise pants, and frumpy, middle-aged artist clothes. At the worst I might be subject to a brief scrutiny on the Metro, or, say, a judgemental pursing of the lips by a saleswoman. But I'm afraid earmuffs (on me) might just push someone over the edge, provoking hysterical peals of group laughter....and I'm just not ready for that. Posted by Picasa

Where I Live

There's been a lot of talk this year, and well, most years, about pulling up stakes and moving somewhere else. Greener pastures, and all that. Many of you gentle readers have been witness to these geographic musings, or flights of fancy, or whatever you want to call them, and you're usually kind enough to humour me by nodding and not interrupting too much with practical questions while I go on and on about "the next great place". You seem to understand that this is just one of those quirks or tics in my otherwise flawless nature, and it's best to let the neurosis run its course. Thus you have indulged not only my preoccupation with otherwise dull articles about the housing market, but also my habit of compulsively scanning the real estate section pretty much wherever I go (the only exceptions so far have been Moscow -- because I couldn't find a real estate section, and Springfield, Massachusetts -- because I wouldn't live there if you paid me.)

Meanwhile, here I am: Paris, France. Population: about 2 million in the city proper, 10.5 million in outlying areas, too many in my neighborhood. Elevation: 27 meters (90 ft). Area 105 square km (41 sq miles). Weather: dark and gray in winter, rainy and gray in summer, with some occasional pleasant surprises (like this October). Quality of life? Well, there are "some good points, some bad points", as David Byrne would say. For whatever reason or reasons, this is where I live, and lately I've been trying very hard to simply enjoy the feeling of being in one place, putting down roots. Until I'm pulled somewhere else, that is...