Friday, November 28, 2008


I visited my friend Iris yesterday. She lives in Boulogne just outside of Paris.She called to tell me that she had a surprise. Something about a coat.
The surprise was really an old drawing I had made in 1975  that she had recently dug up.
Iris is a "sentimental saver" and her walls show it. 

Some people throw away flowers when they are limp.  If a good friend has offered her a fine bouquet she will not dump it until each petal is brown and moldy.  She is that way with objects and photos... and friends.

The drawing, made on  a shirt cardboard with a scratch pen was of a scene on La Place Clichy.  I was living in a maid's room near by at the time on la rue Amsterdam completely focused on my abstract water colors.

I made it for someone who was looking for someone to illustrate his children's book  series. 
It didn't meet with his approval, but he added with his rejection. "You'll never get anywhere with this crap (my water colors) why don't you paint clowns?"

What  astonished me about seeing this drawing was how it revealed "life on the bench" in 1975.
The man is opening a can of sardines. At that time a special key was necessary and 
most clochards possessed one. The pigeon friendly woman, I later learned, was breaking the law. It"s a crime in Paris to feed pigeons.
And the working woman on her lunch break would no longer be reading Le Figaro

Time has passed and I have yet to paint a clown.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Spring a year ago.  Doom on the horizon.  I was on the brink of loosing my studio -lodgement. The last thread of hope was a delay at Le Palais de Justice the following month. Not only was I about to lose the place where I hung my hat and my paintings - my Montmartre neighborhood ...and what would happen to my animals? Nina, pink-nose- bearded collie -terrier- beagle. Kiki - no name because I was only going to watch him for the night fourteen years ago, and little Lucy the noctonbulle.  Every time I passed someone sleeping on a cardboard box, a shrill ran up my spine. I gave Iris, my longtime friend, a call to confirm that  I was coming for a visit.

"Tiens, Tiens" she began. "Do you remember my neighbor Marie Ange who owned the flower shop next to me?"  I had a vague recollection of a blond lady with a little dog whose shop was in my painting of la place where Iris lived.
"Well we crossed paths this morning." Iris announced.
"And I told her that she had a sad face." Iris'es franglais.
"Yes." she admitted that she was upset." I will be losing the guardian of my country house at the end of the month and I'm very worried."
"I may have someone for you." Iris assured her, thinking of my dreadful plight." She will be visiting me this afternoon."
Marie Ange arrived minutes after I walked up the  steps  at Iris's house.
with an airiel veiw of her chateau in her pocket. I had imagined a cottage.

There was a small farmhouse on the property. That's where I would live
and I 'd take care of the colombiere or birdhouse. There were also a few hens and a rooster of course, and I would have to gather the eggs, and bail the hay for her two donkeys.
Iris,who has known me for thirty years, glared at me as I nodded.
Madame la florist Marie Ange was going there the following week-end and I could come along in the car. I didn't know the region. It wasn't far from Orleans two hours south of Paris.

The transportation  plans changed. I was to call Claude who was one of her guests for the week-end. He and
 his wife lived close to the boulevard Saint Germain des Pres. I offered to meet them near Les Deux Magouts, but he insisted on picking me up.
I told him that I lived au  pied de Sacre Coeur. The rendez-vous was set for 11 o'clock.
I guess because they were high class, they thought I lived on the top of the hill and not in le March√© Saint Pierre  by saying "at the foot"... had always worked. There was some confusion with me running up the twelve flights of steps, and Claude running down then up again, but we finally found each other and to his car. 
I met his lovely wife Chantal and a beautiful old black Labrador both planted in the back seat. We were then off to My New World. Finally out of Paris he alerted Marie Ange by mobile phone that we would be arriving a little late which lowered the stress.
I normally prefer speaking French as accented as it is to French people, but Claude's English was perfect. We had good chats  and we knew people in common.  He had a law degree from Yale. I was impressed.

We arrived  just as others  were coming back from the market. All hands we busy preparing lunch which was on the patio.  We were twelve. All of us in our early sixties.  
There was a second Chantal who occupied with the table settings. She was an expert decorator she told me and was worried that the table clothe did not match the tableware, but had placed some flowers strategically to balance the disproportion.
Lunch was leisurely and conviale. somewhere between a Claude Leluche screenplay  and an Oscar Wilde script. They had known each other since adolescence and the sometimes not so nice joking showed it.
Marie Ange did not let on why I was √† table,  which made the scene more surreal.
Then it was time to  and see farmhouse and visit the property.
"You can find some boots under the stairs." 
"I think these shoes will be okay. looking down on my e
arth brown walking shoes..
"They won't protect you from the snakes."
I found my size and slipped into them. My head was buzzing. 
She got his dog and put him on a leash. A very big German Shepard. He pullled Marie Ange across the field.
I met the guardian along with  his wife and children. Their dog, a springer spaniel, had been condemned to his cage.
Marie - Ange was furious that tiles from the birdhouse  roof  were becoming detached. There are too many. She caught a fat white pigeon  and squeezed
ed it from the back of the neck - I watched his mouth open very wide, then his neck slumped over  She lay him down and then found another unlucky roof dweller. "I'll freeze them she announced after she had made a pile. Then, she ordered her guardian to take cafe of it, and we were off to the woods to see how the treehouse was coming along.

"Oh that'd be a good place to live", I thought," if I could manage all the prickles." . 
Far ahead of me by now, she announced regret for not having brought her machete.  
I agreed.
She was pleased on arriving at the tree house and immediately tested the ladder.  It was her cache for hunting season. Maybe, she get a moose.
We walked around the etuve (the small lake) and heard a goose wooing.
"Not the season."
Then the answer. "The gander."
"Oh le pauve." He had been killed by a fox or some roving night animal.
Marie Ange promised the wooing goose that she would buy another one for her on the quai next week.
"The goose loosing her gander." 
I certainly knew that story.

We separated into groups and walked long and told tales about each other along the way.
By the time we got back to the house I was beginning to understand the strange events that had brought this entourage together.  Circumstance and tragedy.

Some of the couples rested while I helped Marie-Ange  prune her rose bushes and weed a bit. She complained often about picking up small pieces of fur. The owl on the roof was a persistent night predator. He regurgitated what he couldn't digest. 
"Oh my Lucy", I thought and imagined her being swept up the first night.
Marie Ange was basically prepared for the dinner. Either she or Patrick, her companion had prepared a ragout. It had been marinating since morning. 
"Where were the other dogs - the old lab and a white fuzzy-"
"They didn't get along with hers."
 Another account was that he had killed at least three dogs.

Other guests began to arrive. I encouraged Marie-Ange to change or at least take off her boots.
She told me to go to to the living room  and talk with the others.
I'd do my best.
There was a gentleman across the room who could have posed for The New Yorker when it was hyper WASP. Combed Vaselined hair perfectly parted. The ascot. Good posture as he held his glass. When our turn came to talk and I told him that I was an artist, his whole demeanor changed.
"You see," he revealed, " I am a bourgeois" (which means more like - I'm from a rich family. if you say it in French.
"When I was young, I use to love to draw. I wanted to be an artist, but, I looked at the numbers.
I chose banking and promised myself that when I retired I would paint. "Well. two years ago, I retired and set up a studio. And I learned...It's not so easy."
I nodded. The week-end was splendid. When I got back to Paris, I was very happy for what I had and felt determined to keep it.

Monday, November 10, 2008


I found this translation from a Japanese magazine printed a few years back and thought it would fill in until I finish my present story. I am surprised at my own enthusiasm.

 A Visit to Mary Blake’s Studio

Situated between the historic Basilica Sacre Coeur on the top of the hill in Montmartre and the lap dancing sex shops of Pigalle, we visited artist Mary Blake’s atelier.

Outside rue Tardieu. thousands of people stream by.

Mish mash of languages. maps and guides. Inside the artist’s courtyard, we find a calm serenity.

Two very serious cats observe our arrival.  A shaggy dog greets us tail wagging - offering a broken tennis ball – want to play ?  We knew we were safe.

Mary Blake’s doors, arched, with tinted yellow glass  greets us with a big smile.

“Don’t worry about Nina.”

“We’re not going to play with your stupid ball." she explains to her canine friend.

Nina’s tail stops wagging. Reluctantly, she retreats to her bed and rolls up like a donut. One eye open.We  enter. Three steps down. The “atelier” is twenty feet high. Paintings  full of color from floor to ceiling.

AKO “This place is great. How long have you been here?”

M.B.“Ten years this month.”

Ako: “How did you find it?”

M.B.: The grace of God, some charm and a lot of luck. Nobody wants to rent to an artists these days.

Mary Blake invites us in with a big smile.“Wine, fresh orange  juice or green tea with mint?

Her studio  is a cocoon of colors and shapes.

AKO :  “You like color.”

M.B.  I am color. I think color. I dream color.

AKO What inspired this  fascination?

MB In 1973, I visited a small village in Italy. The landscape was nice, but it was the laundry hanging between the houses… Beautiful. I stared at it until it was dry.

Then in 1977 I visited India - a country intensely  saturated with vivid pigments. Their colors became my palette. I can still see images. The train ride -yellow fields - the bright green canaries- the purple saris and the Bengali pink turban - all at the same time!

The earth in Goa looks like it comes from a Gauguin  painting. Morning in Agra  with  gentle contrasts  of blue. I woke up in a rose garden across from the Taj.

Or was it heaven?

AKO: What inspires your style?

M.B: I just begin - with a line - a color – Then, it’s the canvas that talks to me.

For the moment I’m in an abstract period, but they all have order and honesty. When I say.

“This  water- color is Gurjurait.” No one doubts it.

 “Oh yes Gurjurait.” I hear.

Ako:When do you work best?

Mary: After I’ve brushed my teeth. Early in the morning if I’m home.

Ako: How do you start? Do you have a plan?

 M;B. I  Just begin. The paint is in front of me. My colours  begin to whine.

"Me first. Me first."

After the first stroke- The other begin.

"Why not me? Have you forgotten?"                                             

I like the colors that are patient and wait their turn.


Ruby chez la princess from