Sunday, August 31, 2008


The French have returned to Paris en masse.
The pale, comatose tourists drinking liter mugs of beer on café terraces have been replaced by Côte d'Azur tans and enthusiastic chatter.  It has always been an exceptional moment in this grey city of light.

While cooped up in a hospital for ten days this month, I heard this question asked on a noon-time quiz show.
 "Combien des Francais"  are on vacation this August?"
The reported response was fifty million. 
I took my own trips with my sable
brushes,  Windsor Newton water colors, and Arches cold press  300 gram papier


Great place to visit...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


I had come within a hair of loosing my live-in atelier in Montmartre. Then got a reprieve until next April. I decided this was not the moment to paint a merry-go-round. I got my gear together and took the 85 bus down to the Cathedral Notre Dame.

After surveying it from different angles, I decided to attack it face on.  I saved the flying buttresses for another day.  I set up my easel then mused at the notion that I was going to render this mammoth edifice onto a 46 by 55 centimeter canvas. Of all my Paris paintings, this was by far the most daunting. It was so big.  The bells chimed Ave Maria before announcing the hour.I began blocking out the composition.

"Well, I guess the hunchback is gone." I heard from behind. Blasé  or sentimental?  To think of the thousands of sculptors that chiseled their lives always to create this gem and it's a writer who immortalizes its name.  A great writer at that.

It must be noted in some American tour guide that the birds in front of Notre Dame are people-friendly. Sparrows fluttering around  bread basket hands seems to be a favorite among the camera poses.  A slight and delicate looking little girl arrived prepared with a baggie full of snack crackers. A pigeon swooped down to snap up her first offer, then perched on her arm. Another lit on her shoulder as a dozen or more surrounded her on the ground.  Alfred Hitchcock  came to mind.

"Honey, give me the bag." her mother said softly. Then shooed her feathered friends away.

The weather was iffy the next few days, but I was lucky to get a couple of hours work in between the showers. Unlucky one day when I arrived on the scene only to realize that I had left my painting on the bus. I headed back to the Boulevard Saint Michel.  I knew that the 85 went up as far as the Pantheon, rested for five minutes and then came back down the boulevard. The bus stop serves seven other lines.

I stood in front of  the electric waiting time sign.
 Autobus 85 .........7 minutes.  "That could be the one I had just gotten off of."
 Then, .....6 minutes.  I had had a "Do-you-think-it's going-to-rain?" conversation with a nice girl in the back of the bus. I was certain that she would have given it to the driver when I got off the bus. 

5 minutes. I should pray all the same. I was searching for the right saint to ask for help. Thorton Wilder!  He must be in heaven. 

Concentrate. " Thorton. Do you remember me? I told you  when we were at The Harborside Bar thirty nine years ago that your writing had changed my life.  You told me that if I wanted to be an artist.  I must have vitality.  Please make my painting be on the bus."

2 minutes.  I saw a bus arriving, passing Le Musée Cluny.  Not mine.  Nor the next. 

Finally, the 85 arrived.  I boarded the bus, and even with all my painting gear the driver did not make a sign of recognition.  I didn't see the painting.  My heart sank.  I told him the story.  He reached under his seat and handed it to me.  I sighed, "Merci". I turned when I got off the bus and bowed with appreciation.

I returned to my painting spot. The bells chimed.  "Ave Maria", I thought.  Yes. Ave Maria, Ave Thorton,  Ave the girl on the back of the bus.

photographs Damien Boucher


Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Once upon a time, there was a Sex-Shop (former café) on La Place Pigalle that was as cute as a cottage from Hansel and Gretel. I never passed it without marvelling at its unusually pointed roof and the odd shaped buildings behind it. The forms intrigued me as did the name - NARCISSE. Shabby and vain, I thought. It was there for me to paint. Pigalle is a pretty hot district.  I thought if I set my easel up across from the famous fountain that once separated Paris from La Commune de Montmartre I wouldn't be bothered. Almost immediately, I was surrounded by a group of cops who were stopping motorists randomly to check their papers. They didn't ask me for mine. At the time, I was sans papiers. The police were ravi with my tableau. I was not and decided that it could only work if it were a night scene. I finished the painting by street lighting after sundown.
Narcisse is still on my wall. This site historique had a hell of a fire. It was torn down to make way for a super sleek structure with a slight resemblance to the prior form.  The super elite restaurant the first tenant  had in mind never got off the ground. There is a penthouse with an enormous balcony facing north.No flowers. Trees. Weeping willows. I recently learned that on this very spot, the cafè, was where many  great painters and poets hung-out at the beginning of the last century including Monet, Bonnard, Appolinaire, and Toulouse-Lautrec. Degas's famous "Absinthe" was painted there when it was called Café de la Nouvelle Anthène.  I was amazed by the number of artists who have painted on this very place. The list is long. I'm on it.

2014 Presently it is a well functioning organic grocery store

Monday, August 4, 2008

George Whitman’s Wall

I found the bookstore Shakespeare & Co. in November 1972 after renting an apartment on the rue Galande, a narrow ally street just behind the store. Some of my newly found bohemian friends introduced me to George Whitman, the celebrated owner. He seemed indifferent to me until I told him that I had just returned from Martha’s Vineyard. George loved Cape Cod and each time he saw me we talked about clams. That was my pass to get upstairs to what they called the reading room or the library, but most of all it was where we hung out, told stories, drank wine, and dreamed of fame. Being poor was part of it all. It seemed to have a poetic air. By spring, when it was really la fin des hairicots,  I was  sleeping on a shelf at the store.

I remember the day a real dapper strolled in.
“ I’ve just docked my boat on the Seine next to Notre Dame”.

George was sitting at his enormous desk drinking his tea staring out the front window.

“That’s nice” he replied.

“I’m looking for a book on yachts. I can’t remember the name, but it weighs about 20 pounds.”

Still monotone, George murmured, “I’ve got a 16 pound book on trains.”

“No! Yachts. Yachts.”

“Sorry.” George replied still staring out the window.

The next day George announced that I was not leaving for New York. He had found a job for me.

I remember the words. "Chateau. Editor for Le Monde and Colette".  He sent me down rue de la Bûcherie to visit Colette. Still stunned by this order, I returned and told him that she wasn’t home. He said to knock harder.  She was probably sleeping. Which was the case. I rescheduled my plane ticket and was off two days later to what I imagined would be a glorious experience.

I didn’t know at the time that  a parc naturist was a nudist colony, that I would be a nanny on my own for three brats, and my place in the château was the attic. I heard the rats, but never saw them. I managed through the episode. It did change the course of my life.

When I did return to New York my apartment had been cleared out and I had lost my lease. A friend put me up for three months.  I worked my way back to to Paris to paint for life and that was it.

I met many people through Colette. She was very pretty. Men never stopped falling in love with her. She died young  and broke many hearts.

Thirty-five years later I’m still in Paris. And still painting.  George has passed the bookstore on to his beautiful daughter Sylvia. She does a good job, and order is her tour de force.

I stopped by the shop last  September and saw that they had lost their kitty cat two months ago. Hopeless it seemed.

Nina had just had 3 puppies. I went to the next Monday night reading, and asked her if they would be interested in having  a puppy.

Sylvia seemed enthused, but said that she would ask her Dad.

I had not seen him for a few years. I got a call the next morning.  "My Dad said that if it’s Mary Blake’s puppy, it ’ll have character. We have to have it.”

When the puppies were six weeks old, George and Sylvia  came up to Montmartre for a visit.

When George entered my courtyard,  Nina greeted him with her ball. He laughed. He didn’t say much to me, like "nice to see you" or "your paintings look great", but watched the puppies play with my two cats. 

I put Coco Bean in his lap. George barked at him. Coco Bean fell to the floor.

"Daddy." Sylvia pleaded. "You scared him."

Colette, the first-born and only female, had caught his fancy. She was already promised, but I placed her in his lap anyway. 

I visited George a few days later. "What a wonderful life you must have" he said sitting in his PJ's amidst a sea of clutter. His bedroom walls were covered with photos of the greats of the last century who had visited his shop. Who was not on George's wall? Mic Jaggar perhaps. Jean-Paul Sartre, Laurence Durell,  Jacqueline Onassis were as well as Lawrence Ferlingetti and on and on. There was a color photo copy of me and Colette above his night table. "Well George, I've finally made it.  I'm on your wall, even if it did take a dog to get me there."

Colette is now at Shakespeare & Co. Almost a year old.

She is not the mascot.

She is George’s dog and he calls her “Kitty”.

I heard that Kitty got into his birthday 94th or 95th  cake last winter and demolished it. George thought it was funny.

They are in love.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


"La vie est belle" I thought when  I found my sublet on rue Ravignon fourteen years ago. I'd step out in the morning and see all of Paris before me, then walk Ruby down to Le Cafe Saint Jean after finding my Herald Tribune.
The landlord's pitch, when I was searching, was that the apartment was near rue Lepic (my favorite market street in Paris), and that Max Jacob had lived across the street at number 7. 
"That's great!" I said, though I didn't know who he was.  Eventually, I learned that Max Jacob was the son of a Jewish tailor who came to Paris from Quimper, a small village in Brittany, at the end of the 19th century. Not happy with  his studies, he temporarily became an art critic and met Picasso. They became buddies. He also hung out with Modigliani, Gauguin, Apolinaire, Matisse, and the other artists and poets who lived up the street at the famous Bateau Lavoir.  In fact, he was the one who gave that famous shack of creativity it's name. 
He was a poet and painter himself and had a reputation for the art of conversation.

A few years later while living up on rue Gabriel, he had spiritual visions and converted to Christianity. Picasso was his godfather. After many years of monastic life, he returned to Paris, and soon after was denounced and deported by the Gestapo. He died at Drancy two months before its liberation.

He mysteriously reappears running in my Bateau Lavoir painting.


Ruby chez la princess from