Saturday, May 31, 2008


May 30, 2008
The rue des Trois Fréres, literally right around the corner from me is a thuroway packed with bars and small eateries. Temptation Lane.
I had passed by the restaurant  L’Annex  many times on my Nina- night-walks and suddenly clicked on what a great painting it would be. It use to be a true Mom and Pop Southwestern eating haven and we all mourned when the darling couple with their fine food and charming regional accent retired.  When it reopened, I imagined a very attractive empty restaurant.
I was all wrong. The food is absolutely delicious, fresh, and original. No one feels rushed and the atmosphere is tranquille. It is often fully reserved, but, Vincent,  who I’ve known for a dozen years is never snobby about turning customers away.
I suggested that I make a painting of the store front.  He thought it was a good idea and visited my studio  the next day with his partner Nicholas. We agreed on a deal with rights to reproduce it. As for the details of color, Nicolas said he would leave it up to me. He is the chef so understands art. 
The charm of the restaurant is the open front window and a sort of living room lighting. I knew that I could only do it at night. Paris sky in May is still good late on, but the
sidewalk is narrow and there are hundreds of passer-byes.
I set my easel up between two parked cars – a bit on to the street. A police car was the first to pass.
“Bon soir Monsieur”
“Bon soir Madame”
So, no problem.
Vincent came out to greet me.“Are you going to take a photo?”
“Noooooooooooooo” I have a false sense of perspective. All my paintings look like I’m on the second story.  It would ruin my  style.
The restaurant at my back is often empty. Tonight was an exception. There was a group of thirty or so Americans with a French tour guide and an accordionist to boot. Most of the accordionists in Montmartre don’t even know the song. He had a great baritone voice and the group applauded politely. I thought they were quite civilized for a tour group. Two of the ladies that had stepped out for a smoke took interest in my painting, palette, and procedure. Then I heard one of them comment, “Too bad she can’t throw in a Starbucks.”
I turned and glared.
Exceptionally, no one inquired how to get to La Moulin Rouge, but, two couples asked me to recommend a good place to eat. I did.
Oh, and one asked me what I was painting. I told him,”The Eiffel Tower.”
It ended there.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


 8 am. I was rushing out the door. The concierge was ardently sweeping the courtyard, as she has done for the last twelve years.

The exchange as always was  “Bon jour.” Not looking up.Then.

“Il fait beau.” or “Il fait pas beau.” or  one of us says “Do you think it’s going to rain?”

Today, it was that, overheard by an office worker dashing out from bâtiment B. He responded, “Oui.” She said, “Oui.”

I said, “I don’t think so.”

I had already taken Nina for a walk and I didn’t feel rain coming. I was almost hoping it would not be sunny. The first part of my day  was full of appointments. I was dying to be back on my street corner to finish a painting I had begun three weeks ago.

I took the 85 bus down to La Quartier Latin. Crossing the Seine, the clouds seemed thicker but, when I got out of my doctor’s appointment next to The Pantheon, there were patches of blue and the clouds were white.

Now, I was off to Securité Sociale to update my card. I expected a two-hour wait. I took a number, sat down and opened my new New Yorker. There was a big window behind the consultants’ booths.  I saw that the sky was clearing. It was mountain air blue.  The fellow next to me explained that was because it had poured all night. That clears the pollution.

I had slept through it all so just replied. “à bon?”

I went back to my New Yorker. “Hey”, he said. “Aren’t you 97.” My number was on the screen. Where’s cubical F?

Ten minutes later, I was on my way home.

My friend Douglas was to come by around 1 o’clock to help me with some computer problems. He is really an expert, but gets annoyed when Kiki walks on my keyboard. I prepared some lunch and looked out the window.  The light was so beautiful.

He taught me some new maneuvers for my blog, which he had helped me install. I was very pleased, and now was ready to paint. I walked him out with Nina.

There was a TV interview on MY corner. Douglas knew the

camera man, a Rasta Ian who lived in the neighborhood. We went over to say “hi”.

“Do you know that this is my spot.” I said cheerfully.

They laughed. “Mary’s an artist.” Douglas explained.

“Look.” I continued. “See all those smudges down there pointing to the concrete. They’re mine”

They laughed again.

I said good-bye to Douglas and thanked him for his great help.

Then, took Nina back to the house, thought about it for five seconds and packed up my gear.

I set up my easel so not to be in view of the correspondent who seemed dressed for a funeral.

I asked if I was bothering them, but not with an interrogative intonation. I set up my easel and began to paint.

The interview was a clip for Senegal TV announcing an opening art exhibition for one of their most famous artists. I don’t know if this happens on real TV but, there were about twenty takes.  I was beginning to know the spheal by heart. “Bon jour mes amis. Nous sommes à Paris to celebrate the Opening of …

I thought it was a little ironic, but it sounded interesting. Perhaps I could get an invitation. When they finally finished.

I asked them where it was.

They laughed again. “Oh, it was last week.” 

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


"Café Le Select" 1996 

Many years back, I went to a vernissage at a gallery on the Quai des Grands Augustins. Ron Bowen, a longtime friend, was exhibiting his new work. Ron’s paintings, hyper-serene and paradoxically stark large scale works, are masterfully painted in his smooth photo-realistic style.

The owner of the gallery, a tailored-suited gay Eurasian, not only recollected having met me at a dinner party a year before, but also remembered my Paris postcards.  "You should show your work here," he said convincingly.

"That would be great,"  I responded. I would have pulled out photos of my new work on the spot had it not been a fellow artist’s opening:  bad manners. He saw my hesitation.
"Make an appointment with my director, Chris, " he suggested.  "He’s too busy to talk to you tonight."  I walked around and looked at Ron’s new work. My favorite was a bathtub soapdish surrounded by pale green tiles. His bathroom really IS that clean, I thought. I congratulated him and then left in a very good mood.
It took me a while to get a hold of Chris. All the time I was thrilled at the prospect of showing my new work in this great location. He finally agreed to see me. When I arrived at the gallery, Chris was engaged in a serious conversation with another young man. I introduced myself.

He asked me if I wouldn’t mind waiting.  There was a new exhibition so I pretended to look intently at the large super abstract canvases for what seemed to be an awfully long time. After 45 minutes or so I approached the two men and said that if they were too busy...  Chris sighed and stood up to look at my book loaded with recent images of Paris. He opened it to my painting "Le Select," a Montparnasse café renowned for its history of serving degenerate artists and writers from Modigliani to present.   It had been Hemingway’s drinking hole as well.
I had included Ernest at one of the tables, though he was more known to belly up
to the bar. As was Henry Miller. It was a good painting also. I modestly saw a touch of "Le Moulin de la Galette" in it.
"Oh," he groaned, "this stuff is for the tourists," and closed the book. "Why don’t you try la Place du Tertre?"
As it turned out, Chris and I had many mutual friends. Fortunately. we were never invited to dinner parties at the same time.
Everyone knew that I was in rage over his remark.  Le Select ended up in the collection of Emily Lodge. Yes, "Lodge" as in "Henry Cabot."   Every time I see her and her husband Bobby they remark about how much they enjoy it.
Chris and I are on good terms now.  He’s had his own gallery near the Bastille for about 10 years. I saw him coming out of my corner café Le Progres last week. He said the second course was bland. I laughed. Chris has a style of his own.
But now that I’m back painting in the street, I ask myself, why did the remark "It’s for the tourists" pierce my heart so?
And why does the word tourist connote garbage?
Doesn’t anybody travel anymore?
Are we all xenophobic?
For those who define tourists as a person that is easy to take advantage of, shame on you.
Thirty years ago, I traveled 6 months in India.
The Hindus believe one who travels is a spirit seeking wisdom.
Nonetheless La Place du Tertre behind the basilica Sacré Coeur is and has
been, for over a century a charming square where painters sell their works
to  "travelers."  It’s a perfect market situation for the millions who visit Montmartre every year hoping to buy "real art" at a reasonable price,  and to see the artist that
made it to boot. A win-win situation. I think a lot of the work is terrible, but so do the so called artists themselves. They don’t care. If it sells they’re happy.

The other side of the coin -- let's call it 'heads' --  is the passionate artist who creates with all his heart and soul and never sells.  And doesn’t care. The world doesn’t understand him, but he never thought it did.

I hate not to sell, and suffer almost as much when I have a vernissage and
they don’t even look.  And when they do look, it’s not that easy either. Because they are looking at me. Even though the works differ, they are all a part of me. My soul’s DNA.

Painting while the whole world is watching is a humbling endeavor. I’m saying, "Okay. You can watch while I make this painting, make mistakes, change my mind, explore,. You can watch. Yes, I can tell you where the nearest Metro is, or how you can find your way to the Moulin Rouge. Just don’t ask me, "Where do we find the square with all the
Because I don’t know.

Monday, May 26, 2008


December 16, 2007

Paris winter.  Hopelessly bleak.  

         A fellow American artist had dropped into my studio to survey my new work, exchange tales, and whine about her  difficulties.

When I could get a word in, my gripe  was that I needed a new computer. My antique Imac was compatible with nothing. At  times when I tried to download photos everything disappeared. Then I would pray.

I was certain that having a new IMac stood between me and fortune

We drank three pots of tea. I was on the

 wagon . I put her out around 4:30. Already night in mid December.

I opened my email box and started browsing my messages I saw one  titled

You don’t know me. Spam

! I opened it out of carlessness

Dear Mary,

You don’t know me but

Certain Spam …then  You met my father 10 years ago in a café in Montmartre and invited him back to your studio

I continued cautiously, with my mother. Phew!

They were visiting from Sweden and were very touched.

A year later they returned to Paris and Montmartre to visit me. I was a student here  at the time They found you painting in the street.

My mother bought the painting for my father for his 50th birthday.

I live in London now,  but am in Montmartre for the afternoon. I would like to come and visit your  studio. Here is my phone number-  It was a foreign  cell phone. I looked at the clock. 5:30.

My heart was beating.

Rats! I thought. I’ve missed him.

After many attempts, I heard a very gentle voice respond in good English. This is Christian.

He was now near The Opera on his way to The Latin Quarter.

but could stop by around nine, if that was Okay with me.

It sounded a little fishy, but I said  “Yes.”

He showed up at quarter to ten with a bo

ttle of wine and his friend Lucy.

I went off the wagon.

We chatted about everything from the virtues of tango dancing to endangered  birds. but, not much about my canvases surrounding us from floor to ceiling.

He did ask me if I would consider painting a courtyard where he used to live on rue Durantin. I knew the courtyard. It was a beauty – on two levels with a fountain. We made a rendez-vous for the next morning. Perhaps he’d like one of my Paris scenes also. I said “Great, but I don’t  like mixing wine and business.” We would talk about it in the morning.

We met for a café at Le Sancerre on the rue des Abbesses where I could show off a mural I had done there 10 years ago. “La fête de la musique.” We then walked over to rue Durantin with  my sketch pad. He showed me the window of the apartment where he had lived. He was sure about the size he want

ed, but said he would leave the rest up to me.

A smart decision. We agreed on a price which quelled my rent stress.

Back at my studio he was torn between three paintings.

I really felt bad about his anguish.

And finally suggested that he get all three and charge them.

He looked at me.

Not exactly “charge” them.

Buy me my new computer with a laser printer.

We worked out the numbers and he agreed.Whoopie





Thursday, May 15, 2008


October 2007

I got an unexpected call from my brother Walter in Peru  “Are you coming to town?  I asked.

I imagine I sounded worried.

 “No.” He laughed.

He’s the deputy director for a humanitarian group in Latin America and sometimes makes stop overs  in Paris on his way to world conferences on hunger, water, and other Third World crisis. The last time he visited was just before my last exhibition at The American Cathedral and I was slightly frenzied if not miserable and impatient.

 I became concerned that someone in my family had died. Which one? I thought.

He continued. “My ex-co-worker who lives in Biarritz…” he started

I had remembered him talking about her on his last visit.

“She called me. She thinks she saw you on TV.”

“Yeah, I heard that I was on the news…”

I replied,” but I didn’t see it myself.”

“With the mayor of Paris ?” He continued.

“No. No. No. It was the deputy mayor. Daniel Vaillant.

He’s the mayor of Montmartre. It was kind of a destiny thing.

When I was making my last painting of Sacre Coeur, the waiters from the café in back of me were very nasty,  I guess I had taken a valuable parking place to set up my easel.

“This place is for cars not artists. If you want to paint go up on the hill.”

 “Attention.” I told them. “C’est pour le maire.”

And sure enough. That’s where it is.” Chez le maire.




Ruby chez la princess from