Monday, June 30, 2008


I first met the Princess Titi Von Furstenberg when I was still managing the dining room at The Union Club in New York. George Pitard presented me to her with a long very impressive title. When a member invited someone special to the private dining room, I was always happy to greet them whether it was a bishop or simply, “ Mary, I'd like you to meet my brother."

George, one of my favorites at The Club had, as usual, a very animated group. The room was fairly busy and I forgot about them until she signaled me to come over.

“Do you think you could wrap these up for Albert? He’s downstairs in the coatroom". She had beautiful blue eyes and rolled them so sweetly, as she passed me her plate with two lamb chop bones.

When they were leaving, she held up the little package in aluminum foil and thanked me again. George then announced that I was an artist and that I was moving to Paris with my dog.

She asked me what kind of dog. I said “Ruby’s a… sort of a boarder collie". She said, "Call me when you get to Paris. George has my phone number".

Three weeks later, I crossed the Great Waters. I worried the whole trip for poor Ruby, caged in the baggage compartment down under.

After settling in a studio in Montparnasse, I called the Princess. I was surprized that she answered the phone herself, and that she remembered me.

She invited me to lunch the next day. I gladly accepted. Then she insisted that I bring my dog. I agreed.

I wasn’t worried that Ruby was a mutt. She was very pretty. Pretty and bad. She was, as you might say, overly eager. She did not understand "no".

Nor did I know how to give a command.

When we got out of the métro at Neuilly, it was pouring rain.

Her directions were good, but the walk was long. We arrived dripping wet. The butler opened the door cautiously.

" Un chien ? Albert est là."

"It’s a female" I assured him. He opened the door wide. The Princess was there to greet me.

She was thrilled to see Ruby. "Unleash her!" Disaster, I thought.

Ruby ran for the parlor and jumped up on the divan. I don’t know which Louis, but the cushions were satin.

"Get down !" The Princess yelled in her Texas twang. Ruby obeyed.

The room was filled with remarkable paintings. I was trying to look at them and keep track of Ruby as Albert chased her around chairs and under tables happily wagging his little dashund tail.

We went down to the lower level of her magnificent house filled with large abstracts of New York artist. I gasped as Ruby rushed toward a real tiger skin rug with the head – mouth open-teeth shining. The tiger didn’t respond to her barking. She then circled the pool with Albert at her tail.

She ran faster but was unable to get traction on the marble floor.

She slid around the corners. I was certain the two would end in the water. I looked down at my shoes. Would I have time to untie them if I had to jump in to save her. It was time to eat. We went upstairs to a bright room next the kitchen.

The Princess put a bowl on the floor and explained to Ruby that it was "hers". Ruby understood. Albert’s bowl was already there. She filled the two with what looked like Frolic.

Then we sat down and had lunch. The dogs behaved themselves.

She told me that she had had a dog just like Ruby a long time ago in Texas. She said that she still misses her. We had lunch many times in that room by the kitchen, often with Peter, her companion. I loved talking with her. She was smart and direct.

She was very kind when I came back to Paris after my mother’s funeral. I showed her the eulogy I had written, she said "Mary, Your mother’d be proud of you".

The Princess Titi von Furstenberg died last winter. When I read about it in The American Cathedral of Paris bulletin, I called her house. I wanted to express my condolences to some one. Peter wasn’t there. Nor was her maid for many years, Marie Madelyn.

The woman who answered the phone told me there would be a service for her in the Spring. I went to it and was lucky enough to meet her son.

I told him I had made a painting of the house "Chez Albert et Cannelle ".

He said, "Oh, you’re Blake. I was just looking at it this morning."

He invited me to the reception back at the house.

Written June 2007

Friday, June 27, 2008


Here are some of the people now immortalized in a painting that hangs on the other side  of Paris. I know who they are. Do you?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Just as Medoc has its micro-climate that produces a wine unique in the world,
Montmartre has a mixture of  unique individuals that make the pie tasty.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


This morning,  I finished my painting of the
Café 2 Moulin, on le rue Lepic . I was surprised how the neighborhood people appreciated watching me paint it. I heard many stories, some  very tender, but I will keep them for a rainy day because I'm off to paint again. The sun is shining. 
I did get some advice from a man, with an air of authority, about how it should have been done. His wife, he told me, was an artist. I asked him if he gave his wife advice when she was in the middle of a work.
"I'm not giving you advice," he insisted,"just my opinion."
Then, while still painting, I asked the same question using the word "opinion."
He said, "You're the artist." and left me alone.
I guess he had learned to do that from his wife.
A worker at the green grocer behind me had been very nasty with me the day  before.
I couldn't understand why until I watched him artfully arrange his  strawberries this morning.
So much work and people were paying more attention to the painter and her palette.
Life is just not fair some times.

Friday, June 20, 2008


 “You’re just doing that to sell.”

Can anyone say something worse to an artist? . I remember after my first exhihition in 1975, an action-painting, mad Frenchman, was disturbed that I had sold a few of my small abstract water-colors.

“You paint small so people will buy them.” he said snarling.

I was a big fan of Paul Klee and Bissier at the time and work on paper I found sensual. I still do. You wouldn’t condemn le possionaire for blatantly trying to sell his fish. A strawberry stand on the roadside is not there to be picturesque.

If an artist paints to sell, he or  she’s not a true artist. If he or she  sells, it’s called success.

For the most part, that is why I avoided painting  Le Café des 2 Moulin, Le Tabac where Amélie Pouline waitressed in her wonderful movie.  It’s down on rue Lepic. I’ve  only gone there occasionally though I have given directions how to get there often to young girls seeking to find the magic Amélie bestowed on it. I sometimes want to say, “Have you seen Notre Dame yet?” But they are always so cute and curious and the film is a great love story, so I understand.

It had been a family owned neighborhood bar for years. I remember  having my first café au lait there stepping out from La Prima, just up  the street, my first official hotel in Paris. I was taken by all the men in work clothes drinking their café with little glasses of an amber liquid. Calvados  at 8 o’clock in the morning.

I went there recently on the way back from seeing my landlord around the corner. The space is still wonderful. There is a S shaped copper bar and the same WC door where the film’s disgruntled cigarette sales lady and the local lonesome customer display their silhouettes and love sounds.

I would safely say the ratio of lit up laptops to customers  is the highest in Montmartre.  I ordered  a café. The sugar jars were  like the ones we used to see on drug store lunch counters. Granulated with a spout. The one I reached for seemed a little stuck. I gave it a gentle TAP. Remember “when it rains it pours” well, that’s what it did. There wasn’t a familiar face around that I could share my faux pas with. I was certain the barman took me for a tourist.

I drank the candied coffee and read Le Parisiene and tried to act blaze. When I paid he asked how I liked  the coffee.

I told him it was alright.

“Not too sweet.”  He smiled.

“Perhaps a little.”

“Would you like another?”

I told him no, but I decided that this café would be top on my list to paint when I finished Le Progres, even if it was fashionably correct.  




Friday, June 13, 2008


I finished my painting of the Café Progrès this morning with a shocking  florescent  hot pink.   I wanted to save the flo - the frosting on the cake- for the end. Even though day-glow goes back to 'my day', dipping into it was a new bridge to cross, one step before tongue piercing, and breast tattooing.
While the work was in progress, many passer-byes were curious why I hadn't included the name of this famous Montmartre hang-out. "Wait and see." I told them-embarrassed to use flouresent paint until it got dark.
  After lunch, I went down to rue Lepic to work on a painting  I had started earlier in the week.
It was a peaceful afternoon with mostly neighborhood people stopping and smiling. I saw my friend Henri, who always irks my concentration with local gossip chat. 
I said "Sorry, Henri, I'm working."
 Then, I heard from behind, "Mary , I like it."
It was Troy, a fellow artist, now very successful, whose work I deeply admire. He's one of the few artists I know that steps outside  his own ego.  Although we only cross paths, quickly and hap-hazardly, he's  always had words that either  encourage or console me.
I confessed to him that I had used fluorescent paint to finish the Le Progrès  painting.
Then I added. "You probably use it all the time."
He's avant garde. 
He said "Yeah, but your colors are always kind of flo anyway."
"Really? "
"Yeah." They radiate by themselves."

So, in fact, it was just another day.    

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


When I moved my paints and easel from my neighborhood in the 14th to the center of Paris, I became more and more bothered by photo-takers.

Creative motivation has to do with projecting attention on the passive. e.g.. what is being created.

For the observer, what you are looking at is not me. Perhaps, it looks like me. The real me is on the canvass, or the real me is what you are listening to. Me is the assemblage of words on this page. God is perceived by his creations. For example. 

Therefore, for someone to come up and take a photo of me painting “me” was worse than the  invasion of the Huns, if not sinful. I hated it and always refused.

When I moved to Montmartre, it was a daily crisis. I was not a mime, sword sallower,  or juggler.. Didn’t they understand that I was working? That was years ago. Pre-digital and lying to myself.

When, I returned to working outside almost a year ago, the ritual returned. It was “no” in any language or shake my finger "no-no"  in those who spoke nothing.

Then, when I was painting the courtyard on  rue Daurantin, one of the residents asked if she could take some pictures.  She sent them to me by email. It was interesting  to watch the creative process as the outsider.

Now, when I go out to work,  I take along my  cards with my email address.  When I see the camera coming, I have one  ready.

I  now realize now, that I am on stage. I am a  mime.  I am a juggler. Yes, and if I look at my life, I am certainly a sword sallower as well.

But I'm still just making  paintings . The route is different. The destination the same-putting "me" there.


Sunday, June 8, 2008


o go down in the street and make a painting on an easel with the whole world watching was never one of my great fantasies.

True, I had made some charming Magic Marker drawings of New York townhouses, and even Trinity Church when I was working down on Wall Street. That was before I became “professional”.

That was before I left ITT. I enrolled in art school just when all the flower children were getting home from Woodstock. It was the “do your own thing” era and I was gonna do it.
Through Bruce Dorfman at The Art Students’ League my eyes were opened to the abstract. “Easel painting is no longer relevant,” he said as if it were gospel, and I was a believer.

I was still painting from imagination years later when photo-realism was hot. I loved Paul Klee and it showed!

Then, how did this turn-about happen? It certainly wasn’t reflection, contemplation or desire. The grace of God maybe.

I had just gotten the bad news that my pay from Education National would be delayed a month. It was, they explained, “an oversight.” I was already down 200 francs on my bank account after writing a check to EDF for 700 to keep the lights on. That normally took four days to clear. Colmbani was on my back for the rent. I promised him sans faute the end of the month. I was in trouble.

In a trance-like state I walked to Picola Italia on the rue de Vouillé. Fausto, a friend, and the owner used to give me a good deal – 30 francs for a plate of pasta and a small jug of bad wine. He had been a good collector of my work when he was still a waiter at Montparnasse. Now, like all the French commerçants, he complained constantly.

I sat there in quiet anguish as he strolled around doing magic tricks for his clientèle. The waiter had just served one of Fausto’s special dishes – pizza aux escargots – with the shells! As always it made everyone around laugh. He looked my way.

“I think I’ll make a painting of your restaurant tomorrow.”

“C’est une bonne idée.”

There was hope.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


The transformation of the petits commerçants in my neighborhood, Lepic /Abbesses has accelerated to the dismay of the local montmartrois. Helplessly, we watch butcher shops become banks, boulangeries transform into
baby clothes boutiques, and hardware stores into real estate offices. The gilded fronted shop of le chevalin (horse butcher) has been replaced by a phone store.
Far more tragic, this winter the hotel Le Bouquet de Montmartre, on the corner of rue des Abbesses and le rue Durantin was sold to make way for a luxury apartment complex. Although a little seedy (pun intended), it was in the heart of our village.  I‘ve often put visiting friends and family there so they could view the unusual street life.
How many love stories began at Le Bouquet? I know an American couple that stayed there many moons back. They were so in love with this spot, they named their first dog Abbesses. A golden retriever!

I wanted to get it before the cranes. I set my easel up next to the rectory of L’Eglise Saint Jean de Montmartre. The first day was very cold but sunny.I read on my new Golden paint pot. “Avoid freezing” What about me? The hard-hats were already on the roof. I was interrupted by snow, and then by sleet. Inspired by the old postman adage, I continued for short periods day after day. One tourist remarked that it looked like Barcelona The color seem to come by itself,
I put the corner of Le Saint Jean, my first and favorite cafè when I arrived in Montmartre, in the foreground and Le Coqlecot , a very trendy eatery and so-so boulangerie on the right. One of les filles that works on the street nearby at night told me that it used to be a Nite Club and rolled her eyes to imply more. Many people stopped to chat and lament about the changes in the neighborhood. I had become a talking post.
I finished it in early May just as the Mulberry Tree leaves were sprouting.

I walked by today with Nina. Some of the new windows have been installed. They looked quite nice. Maybe it won't be as bad as I feared. The neighborhood could use some new
faces and new ideas. They just have to understand that they're living in Montmartre.
And as a renowned New York Maitre'd once said to her staff. "There's no reason to hate them, just because they're rich."


The Café Thêate is across the street from the historic and charming Thêatre de L’Atelier. The restaurant often hosts the pre and post theater crowd, locals for late afternoon sunning and sipping, and sometimes the stars themselves. The inside walls are covered with posters of plays past and photos of of the famous who ate there.  I painted it from the corner of  La Place Charles Dullin. Always in the late afternoon, but never for  more than two or three hours a day. This went on for a couple of weeks. I always start out quickly, and then it’s one stroke at a time.  Neither the owner nor the manager seemed interested, but I got lots of compliments from passer-bys.

“Why do you have all the talent and I don’t have any.” I heard a man ask from behind. I stopped and looked at him.

“You probably have more than you think.” I replied feeling a little pity. He went and joined his friends at the café next door.I learned later that he was a well-known French movie actor. Gérard something-or-other. His wife was in the on going play. So he WAS joking.

I got some interesting remarks from the kids who play on the square after school. Like, “Still haven’t finished, huh?”

By the weekend of La Fête de Vindage, the crowd I had created became a reality.

I went there with Nina, the next morning for a café. I passed by my usual, where the music is loud and there’s a chalk on the black board shrill every time the barmaid slides the metal sugar bowl on the zinc. I was surprised how calm it was, with Marie, a pretty girl with long dark curly hair at the helm, and fabulous jazz on the radio. I got hooked on the tranquility and Marie’s gracious smile. Nina got hooked on the biscuit she was offered on arrival.

Marie told me that she had worked there for almost thirty years.

We’d have good “girl-chat” every day and still do. I love her dry wit and people incite. She tells me when my sweater is inside out or when I have paint on my face.

Last December; when it was too nasty to go out and paint I was looking at that September work.

“There’s something wrong with that painting.” I thought.

I took out my cadmium yellow deep and made it “Chez Marie”.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Chez Ali, on the far end of the rue des Trois Frerés  known officially here as Chez Ali, was the little grocery store chosen for the film Ameli of Montmartre. I painted it in 2000 after it had been spruced up, but, before the film came out. The corner grocery store open late at night was up and around the corner from my first sublet on rue Ravignon  and just down around the corner from rue Berth, my second  Montmartre residence. Ali had star quality. I included his three children, all girls, in the painting. Ali’s wife had coached me. Then, she wanted to be in it herself . I said “no room” but, out of courtesy, I put her in the window upstairs.  I put Ali at the door.  Ali regrets not having bought the painting. He told me six years later.
The girls are now grown jeunes filles and the man with the white beard is still walking with a slant. The dog, my Ruby, is reincarnated somewhere off a leash.
But the store, La Maison Collignon, is now world famous owing to the great inter-national success of the film. I saw it twice and loved it.  Many standard guide books  now include this street corner. The Japanese  love it as much as they adore as Luis Vuitton.

Ali did not let opportunity pass him by. Magazine and yellowing newspaper articles about him are taped to the side window. He sells post cards and posters of the film and has specialty items for tourists. He was so successful that he went and bought the Boulangerie on the rue Ravingnon. I thought a Morocain will never be able to make a good baguette. Wrong. He took a six month training course in baking. His baguette is great. The house speciality - pain aux olives! Ali's brother, Abdellah, now watches over the store and all the tourists that come to have a real taste of Montmartre.  For us, it's still, chez Ali,  the corner grocery store open late. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


In the fourteen years of painting in the street, I thought I had been asked every possible question and had  given directions to all known and unknown landmarks in Paris. Until today.

I had been working about half an hour when I saw from the corner of my eye, two kids approach. One waist high. The other two or three inches shorter.

“Madame. S’il vous plait. Madame s’il vous plait”

“Oui.” I didn’t look away from my canvas.

“Est-ce-que on peut vous aider?”

I stopped. “You want to help me? What would you like to do?”

“You know. Paint a little on your canvas.”

“Where’s your mom?” I asked motherly.

“à la maison.” They pointed across the street.  They were eyeing the treasure of paint pots sprawled around me.  They didn’t see the “I’m- God-when-I-paint” egotistic in front of them, who doesn’t even like advice. I would not even allow my art teachers to touch my oeuvre.

“What color”

“Red!” big brother shouted.

"Blue no green no blue” little brother followed.

I took my smallest brush, mixed a little naphthol red light, and handed it to big brother. “Be careful. Just a dot.”

He slowly outlined a traffic sign. A future engineer, I thought.

Little brother was still undecided between blue or green.  An artist, I thought. I mixed some phthalo blue (green shade) on my palette. 

“Be careful.” I said. He was so nervous, I’m not sure that he actually touched the canvas. I was looking for my camera. When I finally focused on him. I saw a flashing CHANGE YOUR BATTERIES. They had it right there.







Monday, June 2, 2008


Every Sunday the streets on my side of Montmartre become piétons– no cars - unless you can prove you’re an invalid.

Larissa Noury , a Belarusian artist,  that I had recently met at her vernissage was due by at 10:30. She was late. It was sunny and I wanted to get back to the painting on my corner. To kill time, I decided to wash the dishes. There was a broken glass in the water. I cut my right index finger. You know, the one you use to double click your mouse. Liesbeth arrived and seemed more concerned with my injury, now wrapped in toilet paper, than my artwork. I suggested that we go across the street to Le Progres for a coffee.

She said, as we sat down, “They’ll have a band-aid here.”She was right.  Restaurant kitchens always have First-Aid boxes. I think it’s the law. The waitress came over.

 “Bon jour Marie”

 “Bon jour. Est-ce-que on peut avoir deux cafés et un  pansement.” (Band-Aid). I held up my finger.

She shouted to the barman, ”Deux cafés et un pansement pour Marie.”

Un pansement pour Marie.” The barman shouted to the kitchen

Tout suite” the chef shouted back.

I was impressed. I was expecting Larissa to be also. She looked pleased and composed, but not surprised. I learned that she had a doctorate in architecture.

Then we talked about paint. Oils vs. Acrylics. It was sort of like a PC vs. Mac waste-of-time debate. People change their political party  more frequently than their computer affiliation or their painting medium.

"I ‘m an acrylic person and stand by it. It’s because of my animals." I told her tongue in cheek. "Oils take so long to dry, I always ended up with dog and cat hairs stuck to my canvass.”

She smiled. We went back to my studio for a few minutes and talked about my paintings.

“I’m going to leave you.” she said gently. “I think you are very anxious to paint.” 

We agreed to go to an exhibition together next week.”


Ruby chez la princess from