Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Prinsengracht, Little Black Houses and Balls of Wool in Amsterdam

Did this skinny sketch from a cafe table just around the corner from the canal  house we're staying in here in Amsterdam. It takes a moment to see what it is, but its a peak over the shoulder of the building on the corner of our block.  It's not at all what I sat down to sketch. There was a great view of the whole canal, but after running home to grab my sketch bag I realized I didn't have a pencil. Greg went back to grab one and I started doing a little ink line drawing of this roofline just to pass the time. Two beers and a bowl of peanut chicken soup later this is what I had. Afterwards we took a canal boat tour. One of the million things we learned on the tour was that this city was decimated by the black plague. Thirty percent of the population of Amsterdam was wiped out by three different waves of it throughout the 1600s. When someone fell ill with the incurable disease their house was painted black. People brought them food and water, but they'd remain completely quarantined in their houses until they passed away. To this day those houses remain black in colour and will never be changed. This house in my sketch, now a popular restaurant, is one of them. Our house (not black), just out of view in this sketch, is sandwiched between two plague houses.  Theres no stigma attached to it now.  It was, after all, about 400 years ago. Now they're just beautiful, and one more interesting thing about this fascinating city. 

We spent the morning at the Van Gogh museum. It was my one 'must do' thing here in Amsterdam, and it was just as  magical as I'd hoped it would be. Four floors of his work, related works, and some really cool displays showcasing different aspects of his life and his art.  One of the cool unexpected little treasures was a wooden box of his where he kept little balls of colored yarn that he'd intertwine in skeins to see how the colors would interplay. There they were, all these little two-toned bundles of wool in the brushstroke colors of his palette that he'd wound together over 100 years ago.  Lovely. 

We're down the final night of our trip. It's been over a month for me. I have a sketchbook full of half finished paintings, ticket stubs, postcards and ephemera that will complete themselves (and appear here) over the next month or so, an extra 20 lbs of books to somehow stuff into a suitcase, a few little art treasures and about a kilo of bread, wine and cheese around my waist to work off after get home. I wouldn't change thing about this trip. The places we've stayed, the people we've met, it's all been perfect.  Sometime mid afternoon tomorrow I'll be anxious to get off the plane and resume my Vancouver life.

But in the meantime there's a moonlit canal-side restaurant out there somewhere  with our names written on it. Will update soon. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Père Lachaise

We went to the amazing food market at Barbes Rochechoart in the morning, bought all the fixin's for a 'Paris Picnic', then headed off by metro to Père Lachaise to eat, sketch and wander. 

Text reads:

The last time I was here, on a gray midweek morning some 20 years ago, the cemetery was empty other than four still-drunk Irish boys stumble-dancing at Jim Morrison's gravesite. They were stripped down to their undies, drinking beer (and offering to share it with us) while their ghetto blaster warbled out old Doors tunes. Today it's a different scene.  There's a fence around Jim's grave.  Throngs of tourists press up against it taking photos. There are groups of school kids being toured about by guides.  I overheard two versions of La Vie en Rose at Edith Piaf's grave and a dum, dum dadum version of the Funeral March here at the gravesite of Frederic Chopin.  I've sat through several tour guide explanations while doing this sketch, and  if my understanding is to be trusted, his body is buried here, but his heart, as per his request, is enshrined in his native Poland where crowds of people come each year honorary their respects to his genius. Now that's spreading the love. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

l'Opera de Lyon

Sketched this sitting on the grass above the opera house in Lyon. I had a pocket of time before meeting a group from the school for a tour of the Painted Walls of the Croix Rousse. Just as I was about to get  up to go meet everyone around the corner at the Place du Terreaux the skies opened up and started to pour rain. My friend Julie and I felt it was a much better idea to sit on the terrace of the Opera House (on the left here) and watch some live music than to trudge around the rainy city like little ducklings behind our tour guide. Turns out it was an excellent decision, especially since my homework assignment that week was to go see some live entertainment and write an article about it.  Got the article written, avoided the rain, and was rewarded for good decision making with a beautiful display of sunlight on fresh rain-washed rooftops. 
Right now Greg andI i are sitting in the Gare du Nord, waiting to take the train to Brussels where we'll be greeted by our favourite Belgians, Flo and Brieuc. Bye-bye Paris, hello next chapter. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sacre Cour From Our Bedroom Window

Our time in Paris is winding down. We took the train out to Versailles this afternoon. So did every either tourist currently in France. If you come here, don't go to Versailles on a Tuesday. It's closed Mondays, and the Louvre is closed the following day, so all that pent up tourist traffic lands at the gates of the palace mid-day on Tuesdays. Lines to visit the castle were several hours long, so we opted to pick up a picnic, rent bikes  and explore the grounds. We watched Sofia Coppola's 'Marie Antoinette' the night before as a warm up. Wild to see how lavish and vast it really is. No wonder the townsfolk got cranky with them.  We picnicked beside the grand canal, full of people paddling around in little boats and overfed fish lumbering up to the surface to draw down chunks of bread people toss them.  We did hit the palace for a rushed visit right before close when the crowds died down. Afterwards we found a little tapas restaurant by the train station and feasted on paella, then trained back to the city and walked the streets of the Latin quarter until we could walk no more. 

Now, back at the apartment, I figured it's one of my last chances to perch in the bedroom window and sketch Sacre Cour. I will miss saying goodnight to this beautiful view every night before bed.  It's so close it feels like I could reach out and touch it from here. Magic. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Marche aux Puces, Paris

Ah, the Marche aux Puces in St Ouen Clingencourt. It's yesterdays treasures and today's trash all jumbled into a chaotic maze. Armed with our map (it's not one market, it's many) we fought our way past row upon row of knock-off Nikes and cheap clothing to get to the far more interesting markets shooting off of the Rue de Rosiers.  Our favourite by far is Vernaison. We were on the hunt for some cool vintage flatware, and while this place isn't where you'll find the deal of the century, the selection was vast, and there was room for wheeling amd dealing.  The overall experience was fantastic. We chose these beauties from about 1880. A set of twelve. They're in pretty great shape, especially considering they've been in use longer than Vancouver has been a city.  Seriously. The knives are still the original steel. One of them is a little pitted, so if you come to our house for a 12 person dinner party and you are the last person to arrive, you're getting the pitted knife. Consider yourself warned. 

Our other 'treasure' is a lovely little painting done on a slat of tongue in groove. It reminded us of Normandy, which has been on our minds, and of our house.  We think we have the perfect spot for it at home. 

On our way home we Stopped on Caulincourt for an apero and some live music. They love their jazz trios here.  Afterwards we walked to Clichy to check out the cinemas, but instead stumbled on a street book sale and rounded off our one day of shopping with some great book bargains. Loaded down with all our new treasures, we collapsed into a Belgian restaurant for espressos and a dessert that included speculos (my fave Belgian cookies) and made us excited all over again for our upcoming visit to Belgium.

Not that we're in any hurry to leave here.  

Louvre, Orsay and the Van Gogh Effect.

Text says:
"Sitting at the Marly Cafe absorbing the scene here at the main courtyard of the Louvre. Architectural genius or "a scar on the face of Paris" (we watched the da Vinci Code last night)?  Well, I've always been a fan of contrasts, and the way the reflections of palace and sky are dancing across the panes of the pyramid as I sketch seem fitting in this historical and cosmopolitan plaza. We did a big tour of the Musée d'Orsay earlier In the day.  I found myself, for the second time in my life, standing in front of an original Van Gogh with tears running down my cheeks. Something about the way he paints makes me feel his hand on the brush and see the scene through his eyes. So many amazing works here at the Orsay, not the least of which is the building itself. Afterwards we walked the Tuileries and ended up here. Now, Greg's been hugely patient while I sketch my way across this amazing edifice, it's time to cross the Pont Neuf and go explore the left bank..."

Friday, July 12, 2013

Le Festival Soirs d'Été at Place de la République

Took the metro to Place de la République last night (thanks free Paris Metro app, so much easier to get around) to catch Le Festival Soirs d'Été.  What a scene. The Place is huge and gorgeous and recently reno'ed, and the people watching was fantastic!  There's a kiosk in the middle of the Place selling wine and beer, but most people bring their own.  Even in a crammed party crowd like that people are picnicking here. Love it. 
Saw this band, Boulevard des Airs, kind of Manu Chau-esque. 


Afterwards we wandered the hood and found a great late night dinner spot. 

Just found out from my lovely Belgian buddy that their king has abdicated, and that his son will be crowned while we're there. How's that for a Forrest Gump moment?!  

Now it's off to the Musee d'Orsay for us, with maybe a little picnic in the Tuileries.  Did I mention that I love Paris?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Paris, mais oui!

We're in Paris!
But wait, I skipped a few chapters.  

After leaving Pommard I drove through Bourgogne to the airport to get Greg. It's way more fun on a honeymoon to actually have your spouse with you.  We got in the car, asked the gps to take us to Lion Sur Mer, hit the 'avoid toll roads' option to get the scenic route, and headed off. 3h30 it told us. That's livable. 

Cut to 3h30 later. We're in a traffic jam not even really out of Paris yet. Time to destination? About the same as when we left.  Crazy traffic. My thigh was trembling from having to ride the clutch for hours on end. Seven hours later we reached our destination. Jasmin was there to welcome us with an aperatif (love this country) at Villa Louis, a wild, art filled former dance hall/casino/museum that has stood on this beach for 150 years.  It was here when Napoleon Bonaparte became the first president of the French Republic.  It was here when the allied troops stormed the beaches we look at through our upper floor window. Crazy.  It's chaotic and magical, stuffed with collections and treasures.  In the morning we did a little history tour of the d-day beaches.  Very moving.  More on that later (sketches too). 

We left Normandy for Paris that afternoon, this time picking the fast route. The gps took us straight through the heart of Paris. In rush hour.  It was a bit white knuckled, involving high levels of teamwork.  The Arc de Triomphe was insane!  The car right in front of us got rammed by a truck that managed to squeeze between two non-lanes and disappear. So could have been us. Greg scanned for danger as I tried to stay steady on the wheel, and somehow we managed to get that car parked 6 floors under the Gare du Norde, down a ramp that could double as a spiral staircase, at exactly the right time. Thank you gps. 

So now here we are. The apartment we're staying in is lovely, airy, with a view of the rooftops of Paris that I will never forget. We're in the heart of Montmartre. Day one we headed up to the Place du Tertre and breakfasted while I did this sketch. 
Afterwards we visited Sacre Cour and wandered the streets of our hood for hours. We dined on rue Lepic (where both Van Gogh and Hemingway, two of my faves, once lived), then ended up back at Place du Tertre for a very entertaining nightcap. 

Here's a quick sketch of the rooftops from the apartment. Did I mention that I love this place? 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Beaujolais, Burgundy, Beaune and the lovely Pommard

I'm tucked into my little airbnb spot in lovely Pommard. It's been a long day, driving out of Lyon, through the towns in the  Beaujolais and Burgundy regions, all vineyards and golden stone villages glowing in the sunlight, then on to Beaune, and the extra few minutes up here. This town is tiny. It looks like the place where Chocolat was filmed, but smaller, with narrow little streets that bob and weave, and great vistas of vineyards filling the gaps between the stone fences and villas. My bnb is actually a little winery/tasting room.  I sat out front sampling their wares and sketching the street scene.  My neighbours were out there too, down
 from Amsterdam for theweekend.  They had a Barbra Streisand doll who travels with them.  They dress her up  in cute outfits and take photos in cities all over the world.  Yes, they post them on her facebook page.  Will investigate when I'm less tired.  

There's apparently one really good restaurant here in Pommard that you need to book weeks ahead to get in to, and one other one that I just couldn't get interested in, so I drove back to Beaune for dinner. It's one of the biggest wine centers in France, and it attracts a lot of people. The architecture is truly astonishing.  Loads of Medieval and Renaissance buildings everywhere!  Apparently there's even some pre-roman structures still standing there.  It was a walled city, and a lot of that is still intact.  Old Town, in the centre, is loaded with cafes and restaurants all spilling out onto sidewalks. There's a real scene here. Very international. Lots of what i think might be Dutch and German being spoken.  I sat in a cafe and ate boeuf bourginon and had a glass of something lovely from the area. When in Rome...

I had to laugh whenI saw this little pencil case. For anyone who knew me when I was post-crash, two arms in casts, checking my email with my toes on the computer, you'll get whyI had to buy this. It says: "they adore my method of checking emails". It's now holding all my sketching pens. 

So, goodbye Lyon. It was an amazing experience from start to finish. I made good progress speaking French, and I made a couple of friends I will keep forever.  My last night, rather than going out, I curled up and had one last lovely dinner with Dominique, followed by my first ever game of Scrabble in French!  This morning I met up with Julie and did one last tour of the Presqu'isle, lunch on the banks of La Saune,  then walked up to Part Dieu to pick up the car and head out. 

Thank you to everyone, Dominique, Julie, my prof Laura, and the staff at Lyon Blue.  I would SO do that all over again. 

Now on to pick up my hubby in Paris tomorrow and start the next chapter. Yay!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Resto Bistrot in Vieux Lyon

We are wandering the streets of Vieux Lyon, my friend Julie and I.  It's one of the largest Renaissance districts in all of Europe, which makes it pretty prime sketching territory.  We were initially looking for the Traboules, the secret passageways that connect one street to another through hidden doorways, used most recently to evade the Nazis, but they were apparently too hidden for us today.  There are a million incredible viewpoints here  The one that is ending up in my sketchbook, this peek into the doorway of the Saint George Church, was carefully selected by my stomach. We were tired and hungry, and there was a sign out front offering mini raviolis with salad and a 'bon prix' for a 'pot' (pronounced Poe, as in Edgar Allan) of wine. Sold.  It's less touristy here than around the Cathedral St. Jacque just up the road.  The walls around us are loaded with tins, bottles and boxes from another era. The prices are written in francs on little cards fixed to the front of the old wooden shelves.  The tablecloths are red and white checked (bien sur) and the pot of wine is served  with sturdy little glasses.  The people in the restaurant all seem to be local, and all seem to know each other.  Lots of cheek-kissing going on. We can't help but notice that the faces here are just so...French!   We are both working on our journals, doing our best to speak only in French, a battle we're mostly winning. The patron is fussing over us just the right amount to make us feel welcome but never hurried.  

This is pretty much exactly what I signed up for. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

My Lyonaisse Nest and le Petit prince

Here I sit, sick in bed. 'J'ai attrapé un virus' is the French version. It's an opportunity to stay in bed, and to use my favourite new French expression, 'Rien de tel que...', 'what better to do than...'. I love my little nest here. Note the coffee mug that matches the bedding. 
I picked up this postcard of one of my fave statues here. It must have been shot a while ago, because now the statue is obscured by trees, which makes it even more magical. 

Text under the postcard reads:
When I arrived at the apartment here in Lyon there was a copy of Le Petit Prince waiting for me  on the desk in my room. Lyon is pretty proud of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who was born and raised Lyonais. And so they should be. I've been reading this book every night here, and when I'm too tired to read, I pull it up on YouTube and some man with a great French speaking voice reads it to me. Part children's book, part philosophy, it's magical. I'll have to pick up a copy of my own. I'm wearing this one out!  When the guide took us to see this statue hidden in the trees at the edge of Place Bellecour (spoiler alert) and told us the story of the demise of Saint-Exupery I had a bit of a teary moments the story of his crash changes a bit depending on who's telling it, but it's always sad. 

Two Favourite Fountains

This city is full of amazing statues and fountains. Yogi, who barks at the former and tries to jump in the latter, would be endlessly stimulated here.  It is pretty spectacular. The other thing they have in abundance is bridges. There are 28 of them connecting la Saunemand le Rhône to the Presqu'isle. During the war the nazis blew out all but two of them.  Now some of the bases are old and beautiful, but the decks are all post WWII.  We had a good look at them on our little river cruise boat on Sunday which, if you find yourself here, is worth taking. 

The text under the postcard reads:
Fontaine Bartholdi
From the same man who brought you the Statue of Liberty, this beauty sits in the "Place des Terreaux". If you could see the whole fountain you'd see a woman (representing France) and four raging horses, each one representing one of the four main rivers of France. It is apparently magnificent in the winter, all iced up. But, if you think I'm going to take 'their' word for it, you don't know me very well ;-). Hello excuse to come back.

The part facing the angels reads:
These little "angelos" adorn the statue at Marechal Lyautey (pronounced somewhere between 'loiter' and 'haughty', which makes a lot of sense after you spend an afternoon here). They each represent something; navigation, commerce, geography. the square, very close to where I'm staying, is pretty live.y. There's a flower shop in one of those beautiful old iron kiosks, and a cafe, and this week there's a boule tourney. It's bocci, but French.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Canada Day in the land of Liberté, Égalité et Fraternité.

It's Canada Day today.  Where is my habitual "Miss Canada" pedicure?  Not this year.  Intead I celebrated by belting out a Blue Rodeo tune while rowing around the little lake in the middle of Parc de la Tête d'Or.  In a black and white striped shirt. Not very Canadian.   May as well have had a baguette under my arm which, it turns out, is not a cliché but just something you see here all day long. 

This is the sketch I did on Day One in Lyon, although the arch on the facing page didn't happen until today.  A little creative editing. Is it masking a spelling mistake in French?  Only I will ever know now. But, if you're wondering, the French word for glue is colle. Verb?  Coller.  ;-) 

... and here I am, little traitor, rowing my french boat in my French T.  
Look, behind me,it's the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere and the Tour Metalique!  Those two things sneak up on us wherever we go. They're very helpful in finding our way around. Thanks Julie, for coming with me, putting up with the Blue Rodeo song, and for playing photographer here.