Travel Essays

Tahiti's Mr. Horn watercolorintahiti_watercolorpaintingclass
By Carol Duchamp

Our Sloane Ranger’s chest heaves with joy as her eyes reap the turquoise color flooding the lagoon. Squeals of mirth peal through our small art group as we board a water-taxi in the sleepy South Pacific town of Fare for Te Tiare Beach Resort on the island of Huahine in French Polynesia.

Huahine signifies sex of a woman in Tahitian and we note the volcanic land formation that mimics the belly, breasts and aquiline facial profile of a supine Polynesian maiden whose bounteous hair flows into the sea. Sunlight sparkles on backlit palm fronds and intense orange flowering trees excite our eyes.

I am bringing watercolor students to my favorite haunt in French Polynesia for the eighth time. The scent of the Tiare Tahiti gardenia draws me to this painting destination again and again. Sweet and intoxicating, a crown or wreath of blooms moves like a love potion through the olfactory glands. Paul Gauguin named is Tahitian watercolor journal Noa Noa or fragrance, and I would do the same. I begin my Noa Noa swoon the moment I board Air Tahiti Nui’s flight from Los Angeles to Papeete, Tahiti. Each passenger is given a royal bud to tuck behind the right ear if available and the left if not. Gauguin traveled for sixty-five days to arrive in Papeete by freighter from France in 1891. It takes me eight and one/half hours to arrive by plane from Los Angeles.

I must explain that a Sloane Ranger is a British woman brought up in Chelsea or Kensington who is taught to wear her pearls, like Princess Diana. Our Brit from the U.K., Maggie, found my Art Trek site on the internet by googling Gauguin and knew instantaneously that she would join our group of American painters for this dream sojourn into color and South Pacific island life. Dream sojourn it is as we gawk at the turquoise water morphing into deeper shades of blue until it reaches indigo at the surf crashing edge of the encircling reef. A moist sea breeze refreshes our skin as we motor within view of shoreline tropical foliage and the occasional fisherman’s fare (home) on land inhabited by generations of clan and kin, the progeny of ancestral celestial navigators who arrived with their families by outrigger canoe circa 600 AD.

A scatter of over-the-water bungalows, a wide white sand beach and an expansive over-the-water fare (restaurant and reception) come into view in a protected cove and our water-taxi heads for the dock. We hear the blow of a conch shell and receive a helping hand off the boat from a handsome young Polynesian wearing a short hibiscus patterned sarong that gleams against his coconut oiled skin. A Polynesian woman wearing a hand woven flower crown and dress pareo (sarong) hands out cool washcloths. The conch shell is blown again. By now Maggie and Mama (pronounced with a southern drawl) are off the boat and on the deck experiencing their first all-encompassing hormonal lust rush since menopause. Next thing I know they are fluttering about with their cameras as Tane blows the conch shell for the third time to seal our welcome.

The hotel is staffed by villagers from Fiit’i, friends and first, second and third cousins whose gift of hospitality is the unspoiled beauty of their authenticity, like the island itself. Smiles are easy to come by, speech as gentle as a trade wind caress. Our bungalows are spacious, surrounded by coral colored hibiscus, red ginger, purple banana flowers, pink variegated leaves and radiant green swaying fronds, a flora lush with sheen and multi-hued. The jagged volcanic peaks of the sacred island of Raiatea rise in the distance from the sea. Clumps of coral cast a purple hue as the sun shines through the transparent turquoise water of a gently sloping swim beach.

We have two hours to frolic before our first painting class and into the lagoon we go with mask and snorkel for a visual feast of undersea life; small iridescent lapis blues feed on gold and lavender tipped coral. Silvery needle-fish glide in a state of benign calm. Thin black and yellow stripped ellipses, orange and blue flatheads, parrot fish and grouper nibble beneath us in unadulterated beauty. Nature’s painterly hand surrounds us. Tatiana is our mermaid. She squeezes lemon into her long thick hair to bring out the blonde highlights and the pulp looks like seaweed and we tease her lovingly.

I teach non-traditional and expressive watercolor. We begin by painting on pre-soaked 300 lb Arches cold-press watercolor paper. All of my students are new to watercolor, but only one is a novice painter. I have a potter, an oil painter, an art teacher, a Sunday painter and a retired English teacher on board.

“We are here to study the watercolor phenomenon,” I announce. “Notice the water and pigment interaction. Practice the mixing of your colors directly on the wet paper. Enjoy the spontaneity of the medium, it’s passages of outstanding beauty, the natural capillary action of the water as it carries pigment, and the dialogue between you, the artist, and the painting as it emerges.”

It’s a tough class for painters habituated to landscape and representational imagery.

“We’ll get there,” I assure them. “But be on familiar terms with your medium first.”

Day two and we hand soak our paper, mix dazzling greens from our yellows and blues, and focus on energy, rhythm, atmospheric effects and visual excitement. Tatiana Mermaid is beside herself with joy. She likes large and visceral and the colors come pouring out of her like waterfalls, intensely saturated and kinetic.

I encourage these color screams. My own watercolors are richly saturated, abstract, textured and symbolic renderings of the non-objective– emotion, archetypal energy, spirituality, intersecting forms, the invisible given over to the visible. I teach what I have discovered about watercolor through abstract experimentation and freedom from pre-visualized restraint. I share what I know with my students.

In the third class we focus on painting into pre-moistened areas with our learned wet-into-wet techniques. We practice edge tinting, concentrating on the crisp outer edge and the soft inner edge of our shapes.

“Gauguin painted in shapes. Notice his shapes.” I suggest.

The class is gaining momentum and I nurture the individual visual voice of each painter. Mama’s daughter, the Little Hussy who poses in her sarong against a curved palm trunk for photos for her husband back home, breaks loose with her watercolors. She is an art teacher discovering the poetry of transparent watercolor for the first time.

Mama’s friend Cynthia, the potter, makes a breakthrough too. After class she takes a walk to the wild side, down the beach and around the point where fishermen’s bungalows hide in the foliage, native fish nets hang in bunches from trees and sticks in the water mark fish traps as in the days of old. She paints the lagoon, the reef, the shape of Raiatea island across the way and a little dog on the beach. We comment on the dogs in Gauguin’s paintings.

The natural capillary action of wet-into-wet watercolor techniques lends itself to painting the atmospheric effects of feathery skies and glistening water. Our hibiscus flowers are loose and free and with a little encouragement almost paint themselves.

In this watery world of ours, we skip a painting day and head for the black pearl farm by motorized outrigger canoe, stop for drift snorkeling above a magnificent coral garden and listen to south sea melodies sung by our ukulele strumming local guides.

The pearls are lustrous in subtle tints of gray, copper, blue and green depending on the shade of the mother of pearl into which it grew, some more perfect than others. The corals are a cornucopia of tangled forms - gold, blue and lavender tipped, surrounded by a rainbow of fish feeding below our eyes. A small black finned reef shark passes sublimely five feet below me. I drift the other way!

At our motu picnic site the tables languish in shallow water, the beach bar opens and with large bottles of excellent Hinano Tahitian beer in hand, we marvel at the soft, wild beauty that surrounds our palm decked uninhabited island. Tei prepares a white tuna ceviche – raw tuna rinsed in salt water, lime juice, coconut juice squeezed from grated coconut through cheese cloth, diced tomato, onion and cucumber. Our lunch buffet opens – barbequed chicken, saffron rice, earth oven baked breadfruit, cucumber salad, green salad and locally grown cantaloupe, red and yellow watermelon, mango and papaya for desert.

A dream turquoise sonata commences as we board our outrigger to cruise the lagoon around the southern tip of Huahine-Iti or little Huahine. We spot the deep purple forms of two stingrays in the shallow intensely colored water. Here too, in this turquoise lagoon, can be found my siren’s call to return year after year to Huahine island.

Our day is not over. We are headed for the shark-feeding aquarium under the sea, a rope between two buoys where we align ourselves with mask and snorkel as a wet suited diver tosses raw fish to greedy harmless to human reef sharks. Sleek seabirds and a myriad of flat bodied yellow striped fish join the flapping foray. Tatiana Mermaid is in heaven, surrounded from above, below and on all sides by these yellow darlings.

Our UK Sloane Ranger is game and eager, but her lack of prowess with mask and snorkel sends her back the fifteen feet to the boat. Worse yet the sharks begin to circle and in her fright she looses a reef walker, rips off her mask and gulps for air. A bit stirred up, she reaches for the ladder and out pop her ample boobs as she climbs back on board in an embarrassing moment. The French don’t mind and neither do we.

It’s Polynesian dance night at the hotel and a troupe of ten young men and women arrive by water-taxi with cell phones and costumes in hand. Once again we are all a marvel at the hip and knee action, and the grace of their storytelling by gesture - the waves, the stars, the night sky, the sunrise. Our Little Hussy gets asked twice to dance by handsome young Polynesian men to die for.

With all the tips and techniques for wet-into-wet watercolor painting under our belt, we branch out after the class demos to the subjects that attract. Mama collects multi-colored tropical leaves and hibiscus to paint on her open deck. Tatiana Mermaid soaks her 300 lb paper in the bottom of her shower stall and flings herself into her paintings with the energy of Jackson Pollack. Our Sloane Ranger cozies up under a beach palapa and creates delicate abstracts from the landscape. Our Little Hussy and Cynthia head to the wild side for landscape painting and tropical imagery.

We are having gorgeous weather and our afternoons are a mix of swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, beachcombing, kayaking and painting. On the optional 4x4 island tour, the painters are decorated by their guide with palm frond tattoos and flower petal fingernails.
Late afternoon on our second to last day, we hang our paintings and celebrate our art. Mama, the complete novice, is overjoyed with her hibiscus and seascapes. After six watercolor classes, she knows how to paint. We are in awe of Tatiana Mermaid’s vibrant color and the sweep of her emotions, beautifully harmonized into abstract compositions. Maggie’s paintings are sweetly mounted to give proper context to the delicacy and fluidity of her watercolors. Little Hussy and Cynthia have landscape after landscape of the cove, the wild side, the vistas from lagoon to reef – and the Gauguin / Winslow Homer highlights that mark a successful painting.

Enough is enough, but not here in paradise. The Fiit’i village dance troupe arrives with an array of musicians, singers and dancers. They placed second this year in the Huahine Heiva dance competitions. The fourteen-year-old daughter of one of our waitresses is a lead dancer. Her long black hair, flower crown and radiant smile accentuate her unsurpassable hip movements and youthful exuberance. We’ve gorged on the sumptuous hotel Polynesian buffet dinner, celebrated our art work and rocked to the heavy percussion that sets the rhythm for the dancers.

What more could there be other than SHE? We head to the dock to watch a black and white art deco manta ray swim up from below, her white mouth wide open. We can see inside all the way down to her ribs. Then SHE executes her most graceful back flip and returns, a lagoon ballerina pirouetting with the silken shawl of her body in fluid motion only water can allow.

Thank God. Our last day is rainy and overcast. Tatiana Mermaid snorkels nonetheless, taking bread in her outstretched hand so that the gentle multi-colored fish will come swarming around her. The air is moist, thick with oxygen. Transparent water drops from the mini-downpours linger on leaves and flower petals. In the tropics there is space between the gathering of the clouds and the rains. We eat lunch, shower and prepare to board the water-taxi to Fare to catch our Air Tahiti flight out. I am given an au revoir shell necklace to add to my collection of eighteen, one for each time I’ve accompanied a group of painters to French Polynesia.

Mama and Sloane Ranger are eager to hear the blow of the conch shell again. They are prepared, cameras ready, to capture the one last delight of Tane blowing his horn. But he teases them. He blows once while hiding behind a large potted fern. He blows twice, still hiding. At last he steps out, his bronzed coconut oiled skin keen against his hibiscus-patterned pareo, a mighty Polynesian warrior, navigator, outrigger canoeist, fisherman and lover who knows how to blow that horn.

© Carol Duchamp 2007


French Passion Flower
By Carol Duchamp

I’m a romantic and I’ve scored an Ivory Tower Air France window seat next to two Danish teenagers returning from a PMX bike camp in southern California. The boys are polite and smile each of the twenty times I ask them to get up and “let me out” on the ten hour flight from San Francisco to Paris. They play video games while I watch Marie Antoinette and Bridge to Terabithia. I am in a great space for loving both of these movies, crushed into a corner with my knees bent and my toes balancing on the back of the arm rest of the seat in front of me. The boys peer at me shyly as I guffaw and weep openly.

I’m on my way to teach a watercolor painting class in Cagnes-sur-Mer on the French Riviera. I’ve rented a lovely Tuscan Belle Epoque villa with garden for the occasion and am head over heels in love with my royal Napoleonic bedroom. Only two days ahead of my students, I sleep for twelve hours on arrival. After slumber I orchestrate the breakfasts with Virginie and some dinners with Mireille, the housekeeper who does not know how to cook. But I don’t know this.

I also don’t know that wealthy Arabs are noisily building a new villa right behind the gloriously old one I’m living in. We’re on a hill with a sliver view of the Mediterranean, gleaned by squinting between the leaves of four giant palm trees and two giant oaks that hover above the property. This is dappled light heaven and perfect for a painting class. The light shadow contrast on the rose patina of the house, the green full-length shutters and golden colonnades are magnificent. Our mediocre welcome dinner of red pepper chicken and ratatouille smothered in olive oil goes over well as my students are suffering from their own giddy exhaustion. The Cotes du Luberon rosé wine helps.

Following our yummy breakfast next morning in the garden (fresh from the bakery almond croissants, chocolate croissants, brioches, baguette with sweet butter and homemade apricot jam, yoghurt, muesli, melon, kiwi, banana and French roast coffee or tea) we are off for art viewing at the Maeght Foundation and a stroll through the touristy hill town of St. Paul de Vence. Art viewing is preamble to our class and we luck out with an exhibit of the history of the playful Maeght Foundation itself.

My class is entitled Watercolor for Self-Expression and I emphasize experimental improvisation, rhythm, capillary action, flicking, puddles, mixing color directly on the paper and texture - everything a traditional watercolorist would never dream of teaching. I have a special following of ladies and rare gentlemen whose desire it is to free their creative process, abstract out from the landscape or liven up the ‘nice and dry’ watercolor landscapes they’re used to painting. Students come to me for bold color, dynamic brush movement, poetic spontaneity and the development of a strong personal voice in their artwork.

I tell them the Mirø story. A collector visiting Mirø’s studio in the south of France admired a spatter of paint and asked the artist how he achieved the effect. Mirø’s eight-year-old daughter who was with them at the time piped up gleefully.

“Oh, he uses a toothbrush!”

And that’s what I mean by playful spirit. Serious artists are playful artists, open to the visceral, intuitive connect that sings with a passion that cannot be quelled. I encourage my students to sing through their paintings.

“Dialogue with a Century 1906-1981” is the official name of the Maeght exhibit. The show is packed with prints, drawings and paintings from the collection of gallery owners Aimé and Marguerite Maeght. Photographs and art works of close friends and artists whose careers they launched - Matisse, Bonnard, Picasso, Braque, Chagall, Léger, Rouault, Gris, Alechinsky, Tapies, Tal-Coat, Ubac, Mirø, Calder, Giacometti and the young Ellsworth Kelly abound. Art and poetry reviews, one of a kind illustrated books and print plates with proof sequences attest to the prolific output of these Cote d’Azur artists.

The building and grounds are a joint artistic endeavor inaugurated in 1964 as a site to display and foster contemporary creativity. Guest performances in the sculpture garden by John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Duke Elllington, Samuel Beckett; costumes by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Frank Stella attest to the international vibrancy of this venue.

I recommend sketchbooks and subjective attraction to my students. It’s amazing how much one can learn about the creative process by copying and thus closely observing the paintings, sculptures and drawings of others. The sunlight and shadow patterns created by tall thin pine trees on the green lawn of the sculpture garden further illuminate pieces by Mirø, Arp, Calder, Takis, Braque and Bury. Les Personnages de Mirø are particularly amusing – puns on rotund men with erect penises. Play, play, play. Learn from these playful spirits, I advise.

We walk down the hill past a monastery to the lovely enclave of St. Paul de Vence, then meander onto the patio of the Colombe d’Or restaurant in the hopes of catching a glimpse of their famous collection of art trades with many of the renowned artists just mentioned. It’s Mother’s Day in France and the place is packed, so we make reservations to return for lunch the following Thursday. There are three games of pétanque taking place on the sandy plaza outside the medieval arched entrance to the town. Serious games in which the French wind themselves up like pitchers to toss their steel balls. We split to drift as artists do. I go to Patrick Bocca-Rossa’s studio, but he is no longer there. Two little pairs of children’s shoes sit in the open window of his former kitchen. I head up around the ramparts to the church where it is cool and peaceful inside. I have some catch up journal writing to do.

Fast-forward and my students and I are gathered in the garden at Terre de Sienne around a large glass table for our first morning watercolor class. I teach what I call the inside out method. Our first challenge is to observe what watercolor can actually do when painted wet into wet. This requires working on pre-soaked 300 lb. paper and letting the colors run and bleed at will. It's easy for some and difficult for others. I encourage them to let loose, to discover their shapes, palette and the nature of each pigment as it interacts with water and other pigments directly on the paper.

“No pre-mixing here!” I shout. “No greens from the tube. Not yet.” I encourage my students to experiment first by mixing their own greens - concoctions of varietal pure pigment yellows and blues.

“Keep it wet,” I encourage, “and you can do just about anything. Add color. Lift color out. Lighten. Darken. Edge tint and shade.”
I demonstrate.

Funny how the mind stops chattering once one is focused on play and observation.

“Process is presence,” I say. “You want to be present in your paintings.”

I begin each class with a poem that acts as transition to the inner artwork at hand. David Whyte’s Self-Portrait. Mary Oliver’s The Journey. Derek Walcott’s Love After Love. Jane Hirshfield’s Lake and Maple, Pablo Neruda’s Poetry, Naomi Shihab Nye’s So Much Happiness.

“Warm up with energy sketches,” I suggest. “Then go for a quick brush and pigment run across your wet paper. Stay with your painting until the story, your visual message, emerges from the dialogue between you, the artist, and the watercolor medium. Look for the happy accident!” I coach.

Most of my students thrive and the results after six 3-hour classes are clear at our grand finale art party. I have strung clothesline with clothespins from tree to tree in a grand circle around the lower garden where we paint. Our hung paintings flap lightly in the warm Mediterranean sea breeze. Carol’s colors are bold and dynamic; her compositions are intriguing. Therese has painted beautiful garden abstracts. Carole’s work is textured, contemporary and highly original.

My students dined at the Colombe d’Or in St. Paul de Vence, at JosyJo’s in Haut Cagnes and La Dorade in Antibes. They shopped for scarves, jewelry and books. They climbed medieval towers; explored ramparts, yacht harbors, provençal markets; and drank enough thirteen proof rosé wine to keep them in a state of non-stop exhilaration. On an afternoon when the trains were not on strike, they took the local to Cannes.

I’m a die-hard Francophile with one foot in France and the other in California. I’ve taught and organized Art Treks to France for twenty years, navigating the French landscape for enhanced experiences of the art, beauty and poetry of this historic culture. But it’s harder these days to ignore the Géant supermarkets, the congestion and traffic, a loss of life style and the speed with which the French run to keep up with our global economy. Are the French loosing what northern Californians learned from them about organic and sustainable agriculture, slow food and delectable cuisine, the two hour lunch and late dinner, ardent conversation over wine, and the pleasures of making and drinking wine itself?

I had naively hoped that the French would resist the march of time and that life in France would remain aesthetically oriented, graced by the French appreciation for art, craftsmanship and a bon vivant life style. Is there a culture that loves and honors its poets, philosophers, writers, painters and sculptors more? I think not.

But I am by no means finished with France. My next classes are already thanks to my romantic, nomadic nature. On a scouting trip to the Luberon years ago, I ended up at a pastiche bar in Bonnieux for breakfast where those gathered spoke Provençal. When I heard the sound of horse’s hooves on the cobblestone street, I looked up. To my amazement, a handsome young man on a splendid blonde horse, bedroll tucked behind his saddle, cantered up and asked for directions to the post office. Romantic that I am, I determined then and there to bring my painting groups to Bonnieux. For the next six years, I did!

Now I’ve stumbled upon just the place for next year. A small un-touristy hill village lies tucked in the foothills of the French Maritime Alpes. It is a high village with a wide view over the Mediterranean Sea, all the way from the Cap d’Antibes (west) to the coast of Italy (east). The village features one small church with a single bell tower (the bells chime on the hour), one boulangerie (bakery), one epicerie (grocery), one charcuterie (butcher shop), one plaza and several winding streets tucked up against a magnificent limestone escarpment. Plus a tattered donkey cart stone road for hiking to trailheads up in the mountains.

A small inn run by a delightful young French couple, ecologically aware and internet savvy, sits perched on the parapets with a view over the Var River valley. This is where I’ll be teaching watercolor classes for the next six years - until word gets out and I go scouting again for French pristine and a touch of romance.

© Carol Duchamp 2007


Picasso's Press
By Carol Duchamp

I lie like a Matisse Odalisque on the orange satin quilt edged with gold embroider that graces my bed in the Napoleon room at the Italianate villa Terre de Sienne in Cagnes-sur-Mer, France. I’ve opened my green shutters to the morning and the dappled Cote d’Azur light filters through the leaves of a worthy chestnut tree. Gold satin curtains hang on either side of the open window, enhancing the red velvet wall covering and its gold fleur de lys design. This is not a replica of a Matisse painting, but it could be. It is France a la Belle Epoque.

Five amateur artists and I are taking a printmaking workshop intensive held at the Atélier du Safranier studio lodged in the ramparts of the old town of Antibes on the French Riviera. My passion for art, travel and the personal charisma of Dominique, printer and owner of three presses once used by Picasso, has led me to organize yet another extravagant art experience to the south of France.

That I have put my heart and soul into the romantic landscape of a past and present France so nourishing to its artists is no surprise. For behind every painting, sculpture, and poem; behind every embroidered quilt, forged piece of iron work, gilded picture frame; lies the significance of being alive, the palpable meaning given to all objects that have touched human hands, the joy in the everyday, French style.
I sense, thanks to Dominique, that the French have not abandoned their joie de vivre life style, despite weefee (wifi), cell phones and all we know of the onslaught of globalization. In Dominique’s arched studio of stone, we breath in the past and a tad of odorless turpentine as we mix our inks, paint our plates and put our bodies into the wheel of a grand press, a press whose multiple gears work before our very eyes and whose standard pressure is even and weighty, for us as for Picasso!

Dominique’s sculpted, weathered face is lit with an unfathomable energy as he explains in English (with his delectable French accent) our choice of methods for the printmaking class. He brings out samples from his art files of dry point and etching, the techniques of engraving straight into a copper plate or onto a varnished one. Our choice of relief methods includes carobondum, collography and marouffage, variations on the use of glue paste, the print and collage. Then comes monoprint, my choice and the most like watercolor in that inks are used as pigment, thinned with turpentine instead of water and painted on a plate rather than paper. We set to work.

The moment of pulling a print, lifting the paper off the inked plate once it has rolled through the press bed, is one of anticipation, surprise and gratification. Yes, the image is reversed. We are amateurs, some of us beginners, so the ink has spread too much. The print is not what we had visualized, but it is something else, the spirit of the artist present in the array of shapes and colors surrounded by white paper. Lovely!

Mediterranean light grows bright and stark by midday and the cast shadow patterns change. We wet our paper in the fountain at the entrance to old Antibes, the fountain with four chiseled theatre masks whose mouths serve as waterspouts. The garçon from the café across the street brings us cappuccinos for our coffee breaks.

During our two-hour lunch I wander through the cobbled streets of the old town, picnicking on baguette, olive tapanade, goat cheese, a taste of stuffed eggplant a la provençal, apricots in season, and a tiny pistachio almond baklava desert – freshly purchased at the thriving open air market. I sit on the steps of the church and sketch the street sign into my journal – Rue Sainte-Esprit– and the circular pattern of light and dark cobblestones in the plaza. The Picasso Museum next door, built on what was the ancient Greek acropolis of Antipolis, then a Roman castrum and Mediaeval castle inhabited by the Grimaldi family until 1608, is closed for renovation.

I walk to the ramparts to view the Mediterranean Sea. Not far is a place of pilgrimage for me. From September 1954 to March 1955 the painter Nicolas de Stael lived here. I adore his work, his way of abstracting from the landscape and I’ve seen Le Grand Concer at the Picasso Museum in Antibes, an exquisite red and white painting 350 x 600 cm, huge, with it’s black grand piano and gold cello, so full and empty.

My classmates Carol and Ken enjoy a restaurant lunch of grilled fish fresh from an early morning catch purchased at the port. Debbie goes swimming at the nearest white sand beach, a tiny cove near the port outside the remparts. John rides a borrowed bicycle to the Cap d’Antibes and seeks out historic sites – Plage de la Garoupe and Eden Roc.

Back in the studio, Debbie, a photographer, struggles with free expression. Dominique is there to push her buttons - just enough so that something frees inside her. She takes new chances with her printmaking and her fear of improvisation dissipates.

Dominique is Antibois through and through – open, energetic, affectionate. He is there when we need him and disappears when we don’t. The inner rhythm of our art experience is focused and laissez-faire, intense and free flowing, spilling out from moment to moment as our focus and passion move us.

After class we enjoy a good Belgian beer, and ample conversation about our printmaking process. Our stay is peppered with other joys – excursions to the Maeght, Matisse, Renoir and Chagall museums, meanders through the medieval hill villages of St. Paul de Vence, Haut Cagnes and old Nice; Mozart’s Requiem passionately performed at a church within walking distance of our villa; and several games of pétanque on our own dirt court in the garden.

On the nights we eat out we stay up late, gorging ourselves over a period of two to three hours with four to five course dinners of local specialties - fish soup with croutons, grated cheese and aioli; squash blossom tempera; rack of lamb provençal; grandma’s stuffed Mediterranean red peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and zucchini; l’isle flottante, a naughty chocolate meringue ice cream desert.

In four and one half days our skill with the materials and the press improves. Carol, who is from Australia, would like to stay on for a month. At Dominique’s prodding, she has found her personal story and is now able to express it technically.

To live all of this in ten days is quite a blessing. We’ve spoiled ourselves and deepened our life experiences. At every turn we acknowledge other ways of being in the world, notice the large and small differences in comportment, like the Mediterranean exuberance for life and a philosophical stance firmly grounded in the notion that we are here to enjoy certain pleasures – the pleasures of camaraderie, conversation, good food, good drink and the present moment, whatever that may be.

The inclination to savor is sensual and natural, the moment of connect to being in the here and now. I yawn, stretch, and glance through my open bedroom door at Marie Tissot’s painted windows in the hall stairwell, then up into the branches of the towering oak tree outside my French window. I think I’ll take a nap now, on the red-orange quilt on a bed built on the base of an inlaid pool table, the work of master artisans of old depicting other scenes of pleasure – birds, stags, carriages, women with long flowing hair.

If I don’t have time to take a shower before heading out for our last evening on the town, I’ll just add a bit of perfume like the French do.

© Carol Duchamp 2007


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