Thursday, August 30, 2007

View From A Chateau Window

Yes, occasionally I have been known to visit a chateau and pretend that "someday, all this will be mine..." But in actual fact, I am quite happy not to have the responsibility of, among other things, cleaning out a moat.

This view is from le Chateau d'Etoges, which I like to think of as the "cozy chateau" because it doesn't have that gray, oppressive, fort-like feeling that so many have (not that I'm any kind of "chateau expert"...but living in France does give one the opportunity to see more castles than one normally would -- in, say, Springfield, Massachusetts).

I wasn't technically given permission to go upstairs, where the bedrooms are, but the good thing about chateaux is that not only are they really big, but they are usually understaffed (in this case, only one young woman at the downstairs desk - hee hee. I'm such a rebel!).

Cow Sighting near Champagne

There aren't many cows in Champagne - all the available land is used to grow grapes (duh!). But we did spot this little herd (herd?) during our day trip, when we traveled on some roads that were just outside the Champagne region. This particular cow seemed like the only one who was interested in what was going on outside of his pasture.

Champagne Harvest

Just before the harvest, actually - it's earlier than normal this year due to a hot month of April (or so I've been told). This was in the hills around Avize and Oger, where millions of Chardonnay grape clusters hung heavy on the vines, ready to drop. (It was too tempting not to pluck a grape and try it, pesticides or no --- yum!)

We had some friends visiting, so we took them to a local champagne-maker for a tour of their "cave," and a description of the painstaking, labor-intensive process that goes into making the bubbly liquid, including (but not limited to): Washing and taking care of the machinery, pressing the grapes, filling and emptying (and filling again) the old oak casks, rotating the bottles daily (by hand!) so the sediment goes down, moving thousands of bottles in and out of teetering stacks in a cold, underground crawlspace - and so on and so on. Not to mention the unbelieveable effort of farming a vineyard and dealing with the ever-changing climate! Just thinking about it all makes me tired and ready for a drink. As my friend 99 so eloquently put it, after we emerged into the sunlight, "I'll never complain about the price of champagne again!"

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Paris End-of-Summer Picnic

The city I know and love came back to life this weekend, for two glorious days of sun and warmth. I had almost given up on her, and was ready to accept that the rain and grayness would go on forever. Once again, Paris has the last word.

Dancing By the Seine

Finally, a real summer day in Paris! And these dancing couples took full advantage to strut their stuff...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Yes, It's Raining...

...but even the puddles are lyrical in Paris.

Stop! in the Name of Paris

Yes, I'm back in my fair city, although (except for the day this photo was taken), the weather has been anything but fair. It is either raining, about to rain, or just rained and taking a short break. Goodness, but I've never seen so much rain! I wouldn't be surprised to see Noah's Ark floating by. It's like we are trapped inside a rain version of one of those snowglobes, just waiting to be shaken. Meanwhile, that good old Parisian melancholie has reached a whole new level of pique (read: new heights of bitchiness). I'm having to re-adjust to being ignored, stared at, or sneered at, after a month of smiles and (mostly) collective goodwill.

Still, it's good to be back. At least there are no guns here! (Always look on the bright side of life...)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

California, Here I Come (from)

Here is an excerpt of my time in CA, which I am still slowly coming down from...

Aug 9th 2007

Been dying to give a summary of my time here, and there's just been no darn time! Mostly, I wish I could tell you how strange it is to be here. How I am still shocked to have so many people smiling at me every day (it's almost creepy sometimes). How shopping in Walgreen's the other day verged on being a religious experience (oh my god - waxed dental floss! cheap paper products! 50 kinds of toothpaste! all sorts of things I never knew I needed, laid out on gleaming, well-stocked shelves! I could have wept with gratitude. Needless to say, I dropped about 100 bucks and I still don't know exactly what I bought).

I wish I could tell you how strange it is to walk down the street in Oakland - at NINE IN THE MORNING - and hardly see any people. Isn't 9 a.m. rush hour? Well yes - so naturally, people are not on the streets, they are on the freeways. Remember the freeways? What an ironic name for something which holds the whole Bay Area hostage. I forgot how spread-out it is here, how suburban in a way: overcrowded with people at every major intersection (and Whole Foods) and yet astonishingly empty in so many spots.

I wish I could tell you how like a scared, silly tourist I feel sometimes - how ridiculously scared I am of the gun violence, which I took for granted when I lived here (or perhaps buried under layers of denial.. and potato chips). But is it me that's ridiculous - or the events themselves that verge on the surreal? "Newspaper Editor Shot in Broad Daylight" "Teen Sprays Machine-Gun Fire at Passing Cars" - etc, etc.

And yet - amidst all these scary headlines and urban blight there is such a lovely, peaceful, almost blissful sense of place - the soft green and gold hills above Berkeley, the hummingbirds flitting about in the lemon tree outside my window, the foggy nights and sunny days, the funky music playing in the coffeehouse, the funky people wearing their colorful clothes and giving out their flyers against the war... people who seem to care, who seem so badly to want a different make this one better...

Land of extremes, indeed...I am still reeling from the enormity of it all - both physical and psychic... France feels like a child's Lego project in comparison...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Follow the Yellow Brick...Dome?

I've often felt (and said) that San Francisco is like the Land of Oz - a beautiful, magical, but often elusive place, filled with technicolor characters and almost otherworldly vistas. Even a morning walk in Chrissy Field can feel like a walk through the pages of a children's fairy tale (that is, if children's fairy tales included joggers, tourists, and professional dog-walkers - all listening to iPods, talking on cellphones, and slurping free-trade, organic non-fat low-foam lattes out of recycled paper coffee cups...).

Monday, August 20, 2007

SF Mime Troup in Lake Merritt Park

One foggy cool night I met a friend at Lake Merritt in Oakland and we were treated to an evening of free entertainment by the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Though the subject matter was grim (the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq), the performers did their best to make us laugh through our tears and frustration. I was happy to see the wide mix of people in attendance - old and young, black and white, rich and poor - but I couldn't help wishing there were more of us (we were about 60 or 70 total). If only there was a way to turn all the sports fans in America into street-theater audiences and activists....imagine!

Monday, August 13, 2007

So Long, San Francisco

See you again someday!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Visiting Lulu's Studio (or, Nourishment)

A corner of M. Louise Stanley's studio in Emeryville, CA: talk about inspiration! Just being inside her colorful, rich home makes me want to paint and draw, and generally immerse myself in art. (She also makes a darn good cappuccino!)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Sunset over the Pacific

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Oh, and...

....did I mention that there were blackberry bushes outside?

Sometimes I really think I might be ready to live in the country...

And Now, for the View (drumroll, please)

This is what we looked out at every day - fields of grass and wildflowers, twisted pines, blackberry bushes, all dropping dizzily into the ocean. A truly magical place, making me wonder if we should be doing a different form of music - Celtic maybe, something more like Enya? - instead of our comparatively Neanderthal rock 'n' roll. Such a setting just seems to scream for women in long skirts playing harps or mandolins, while men in long hair and tights gambol about clutching panpipes and Druidic-type artifacts... Is it any wonder that the hippie movement caught on so well in Northern California?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Window in the Studio

A recording studio with windows....this was a first for me. Usually recording studios are dark, cave-like places, where you never know what time it is (sometimes, of course, this can be a good thing).

Leading me to wonder about that song by Chicago, "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" - do you think they wrote it while in a dark recording studio?

Light and Shadows

Mendocino is usually cold and foggy this time of year, but we were lucky to have a couple of days of sun. The light in the studio was amazing. I could have drunk it.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Recording Couch

This is where I spent a combined total of many happy hours listening to playbacks, or simply waiting patiently while some sound engineering magic was taking place (for example, pasting in pieces of my bass lines which I'd needed to re-do; recording is a humbling ego experience, rather like looking into a gas station mirror). I liked thinking that I was sitting where other musicians had sat before me. Supposedly Tom Petty recorded here once - maybe he sat in my exact place! I've always thought we could be related...

To pass the time, I thumbed through old, obscure hardcover books, with titles like "The Case of Butterfly" or "Stories I Shouldn't Tell" (both astonishingly gripping, in their own particular way, as things can only be gripping while in a recording studio on the Mendocino headlands, with the fog rolling in, sitting on a couch that maybe Tom Petty sat on...).

Monday, August 06, 2007

Back to Oakland (bucolic, no?)

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Leaving Mendocino (taken from the car)

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Town of Casper (population 50?)

Just back from our recording adventure up in Mendocino - an amazing backdrop to "lay down some tracks" (as Ricky Gervais would say).

I promise to write more soon and let you know what's going on - I can just hear you (all 5 of you) crying, "Enough with the cryptic photos already! Give us some context!" OK, OK. Coming soon. (But aren't you all on vacation anyway?)

Inside the Studio

This is the recording console at Old School Recording (formerly Williams Place), where we were blessed with a truly wonderful engineer - Calvin - who was not only competent and hard-working, but actually enthusiastic about our music. A far cry from some engineers we've worked with in the past, one of whom, after we'd recorded a track and asked what it sounded like, told us: "It is what it is." Ouch!

Old School Recording Studio in Mendocino

Friday, August 03, 2007

On the Road to Mendocino

Driving through the redwood groves...I always think of Led Zepelin for some reason. Or J.R.R. Tolkien.