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



  1. The painting is lovely! I'm worried about where you're going to live! Will you stay in Montmartre? I'm totally impressed that you've spoken with Thornton Wilder.

  2. Wow--what a story! So glad you got your painting back. I always suspected Thornton Wilder was a saint somewhere, and now I know.



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