Sunday, June 30, 2013

Gold Overload

We slept in a bit after last night's dinner that flowed into this morning.  Still, we wanted to head out to Versailles today and we were all so glad we did.

Our morning began with a trip on the RER, a train similar to commuter trains in the US.  We were surprised to see that they were double-decker trains; no one had told us that.  Maybe you knew, but we didn't and we got a little giddy.

This particular RER (the C line) ends at le Chateau de Versailles.  Chateau has always conjured up images of small charming homes in the mountains, surrounded by snow capped peaks and sheep with big bells around their necks.  No more.

The entrance gates give you a sense of what THIS chateau is all about. I think everyone knows that Versailles is a perfect example of opulence run amok, but you can't really get a sense of it until you're standing in front of the huge golden gates.  If I had been starving and watching the king prance about behind all this, I would have rushed the gates, too.

We opted not to get the audio tour and simply marvel at the artistry that went into creating Versailles.  Here are a few pictures to give you a flavor of the palace.  I can't identify every room, but does that matter?  I hope not because it was the craftsmanship and care that we were most interested in, not the crazy things Louis wanted to do in the rooms.

Hopefully you can see all the details that this long shots simply can't convey.

If memory serves, the artist responsible for this ceiling went mad and killed himself.

Louis' bedroom was decorated in deep red and the red curtains were closed to protect the fabric and the art, throwing a bordeaux cast to the whole room.  I'm sure there's a fascinating explanation as to why his bed is so small in comparison to all the other oversized creations he had in the house.

Despite being filled with a crowd of hundreds, the Hall of Mirrors still humbles and awes.

The Hall of Battles lined with paintings of conquest and invasion was gorgeous, clearly designed to show the "glory" of battle than any of the pain of the foot soldier.

It was good to be able to clear our heads in the gardens.  Now these are huge too, but I must more be indulgent of large gardens than huge gilded homes because I thought they were lovely.

The fountains don't run every day, but we were lucky enough to see the fountains in their glory. The piped in classic music sounds cheesy, but it really was a nice touch.

Tired feet and hungry bellies kept us from exploring the entire outdoor space; we simply had to stop and picnic.  Still, we enjoyed the tall hedges and sculpture, and all three of us were particularly taken with the contemporary additions to the gardens, most notably the tree sculptures. Here's just one sample.

On the way back to Paris we decided to get off a few stops early and check out the Eiffel Tower.  It's hard now to imagine the controversy over it, since even the supporting iron struts are lovely.

We ended our day with dinner at a local brasserie, then came back to the hotel and put our feet up.

-- P.S. Lest you get the wrong idea, we all thought the 1+ hour wait for Versailles was worth it.  Please don't take my remarks as anything other than a reaction to the opulence.  It helps put the French Revolution into context, that's for sure.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Monet and Bikes

It's almost 2:00 AM and today has been a long and fun day. We began at Musee de l'Orangerie. The walk to the museum that we thought would take only 15 minutes actually took 30 minutes, but it was so well worth it.  The museum houses eight room size Monet waterlily panels that are breathtaking.  Photography isn't allowed anywhere in the museum, so I've taken a picture of a postcard so you can get a sense of scale.

The museum also has works by Cezanne, Renoir, Matisse, and Picasso in its permanent collection.  This is a small/lesser known museum, but definitely worth the trip.  Even if you can only sit and contemplate the beauty of the Waterlily canvases, it will be well worth your time.  (I also got up as close as I could to the paintings to marvel at the seemingly random brushes strokes of color.)

After a quick lunch we walked back to the hotel, past lovely shops and mouth-watering market stalls.

We swapped shoes then went off to meet our bike tour compatriots and guide.  We had a wonderful time going along the back streets of Paris, seeing more in four hours than we ever could have accomplished on foot.  I have limited photos because I'm just not that good at biking, avoiding pedestrians, and snapping pictures at the same time.  But here are a few, beginning with Notre Dame the starting point of our tour.

Here's a little fun fact: Did you know that creatures that extend beyond the facade of a structure that are used as downspouts are called gargoyles, but those that are simply decorative are called grotesques?

The individual homes that surround this very old garden square are the most expensive in Paris.  Victor Hugo's home was on one corner of the square (not pictured here) and is reputedly the largest of them all.  Considering that Victor Hugo was paid by the word and he not only wrote the longest book ever written (Le Miserable), but also the longest sentence (800 words), it's no wonder he could afford to live here.

We spied a few of the anonymously created "Space Invaders" on some of the ancient walls of Paris.  This artist's story is one of success and a FABULOUS marketing agent.

By this point we had made half of a large circle and came up along the Seine to spy Notre Dame from the other side.

Oh, there we are -- a little disheveled from the wind and very hungry.  Fortunately, there was a patissiere close by where we each picked up a burger-size macaroon to tide us over until dinner.

We drove by the Louvre.  It was nice to see it in the sun; it really is remarkable.  As per our guide, the Louvre has 35,000 works of art.  If you took just 30 seconds to look at each one (and never stopped to eat, drink, sleep, or go to the bathroom), it would take you 13 days to see it all. That's a lot of art.

We also saw the Pompidou center which isn't nearly as picturesque on the outside as the Louvre.  But, I find it fascinating that they put all the interior workings of the building -- staircases, air vents, pipes -- on the outside of the building so the interior exhibition spaces could be clean, uncluttered, and as spacious as possible.  I hope we have time to go in, but it's not looking like it right now.

Our last stop was opposite the city hall outside of which the guillotine resided.  I can't recall if it was here that many of the famous beheadings took place; what stuck with me more is that the last beheading was in 1981.

After our fun and very educational bike tour, we dashed back to our hotel to freshen up, then dashed back out again to meet up with friends from dinner.  These friends joined us from Geneva and my youngest hadn't seen them in seven years so it was talk, talk, talk for hours.  We finished dinner at 12:30AM, emerged from the restaurant and saw this:

Ah, Paris.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A Gray Day

It rained on and off today, but I don't care -- I'M IN PARIS!

Here's a quick review of the day:

We arrived at our hotel after a delayed flight out of JFK (bad weather) and lots of traffic on the way from the airport.  Fortunately, the hotel still had its breakfast service out, complete with fruit salad, croissants from Gerard Mulot and, to my daughter's delight, hot chocolate and individual servings of Nutella.

After a nap (we only got about three hours of sleep on the flight), we started the dinner service at a lovely brasserie.

 Then it was off for a walk to the Louvre.  En route, we crossed one of the Parisian bridges covered in love locks.

All the sights made it a little hard to get to the museum quickly (for once, my girls were as camera happy as I was), but we finally arrived.

Of course, we were part of the Mona Lisa Friday night posse, but we also saw Winged Victory, The Raft of Medusa, and countless other treasurers.  Even the walls and ceilings of the museum are works of art.

I'm looking forward to comparing these beautiful exhibition halls with those at the Musee d'Orsay.

We exited from the lower level, walking past the bottom of the glass pyramid and through some Roman ruins.

Then we enjoyed the Jardin de Tulieres, with its fun contrast of sculpture, manicured hedges, and a ferris wheel,

along with its view of the Eiffel Tower.

We ended the day with a box of mini macaroons, but those were all gone before I got a picture.

We're heading to a museum tomorrow (we haven't agreed on which one yet), but rain or shine we'll be taking a bike tour of the city in the afternoon, followed by a dinner with friends coming in from Geneva in the evening.  Au revoir!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

All Manner of Good News

I'm so pleased to announce that Blue Chair with Tea has been juried into Summer ARTiculated at the OSilas Gallery in Bronxville, New York.  The opening reception will be held on July 11th at 7PM; I hope you'll join me if you can.

Also, my kimono, Shards, will be part of the FiberArt Northeast group exhibition of kimono-inspired pieces at the Art Quilt Gallery NYC August 13th - 31st.   When I have the specifics on the opening reception for this exhibition I'll be sure to let you know. I hope you'll make a trip into NYC to see the show because the artwork was so varied and creative.

Shards shown on display stand

And last, but definitely not least, I am leaving tomorrow (Thursday) for FRANCE!!!  My girls and I are using my husband's accrued business travel frequent flyer miles to have the trip of a lifetime.  (Though we wanted them to come along, my husband and son cannot join us and are staying home.)  The girls and I will be in Paris for five days and in Provence for four.  On the last full day, we'll be driving along the southern coast of France and spending our night in Monte Carlo.  I've never been to France or Monaco; I'm so excited I haven't been able to sleep these last few days.

Au revoir!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Failure and Fun

Some thoughts and pictures from my recent dyeing experiment:

Because I didn't want to throw it out, unused cabbage originally meant for cole slaw became the item of inquiry in my first eco-dye experiment.

First step: slicing up the cabbage

I had just added a bit of vinegar and the simmering water changed from blue to light pink.  

I put a piece of cheesecloth, a fat quarter of PFD fabric and a folded fat quarter of PFD fabric into the pot.

Despite my best efforts and the gorgeous fuchsia color in the pot, the experiment didn't do anything but stink up my kitchen for an afternoon and leave the barest hint of pink on the cloth.  I'm going to have to investigate what I missed and/or did wrong. Should I NOT have added the vinegar?  Would the original blue color been more colorfast?  Should I have added MORE vinegar?  Would another mordant have been better?  Did I even need another mordant since I was using an aluminum pot? Questions, questions, questions.

Not to be discouraged, I took the cloth today and spread upon it some new materials. There are zinnia flowers, stems, and leaves (just cut but past their prime), rose petals (stripped from the flowers and scattered on the cloth), freshly clipped geraniums, and a few geranium petals I had gathered earlier in the week and frozen.  Can the failure cloth turn into something new and lovely?

The colorful array of plant matter I'm experimenting with now. 

Everything's misted with vinegar and ready for rolling.
All bundled up and secured, handy vinegar mister standing by.  If you squint, I think you can tell there's the faintest of pinks in the fabric.
India Flint suggests that fabric should be allowed to rest at least one week and up to one month.  It's wait, wait, wait and then see.  Waiting may be tough; the frozen geranium petals were oozing color even as I misted the cloth with vinegar the first time.  I'm so curious to see what happens.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Stranger's Challenge - Part III

Out of the desire to experiment came a pair of new small works.  I've had two 8" x 8" canvases on my shelves for years, so I thought it was time to take them down and play with them a bit.  For some reason, I felt the canvases were the perfect place for me to explore a new chair shape.

Blue Chair with Tea

Blue Chair in Bermuda
I began each canvas with a light spritz of teal spray paint and some light blue bubble wrap printed circles.  Blue Chair with Tea has an colored pencil enhanced extravorganza flower and a Kusmi Tea (Paris) label.  Blue Chair in Bermuda has some painted cheesecloth and a pair of used Bermuda stamps. Both of the chairs and the side table were stitched on white PFD fabric, colored with water color crayons and very carefully cut out.  Several times I saw an errant chair leg caught between the scissor blades just moments before I snipped.  

Collage is something that doesn't come too naturally to me, nor do I have a huge stash of ephemera to build upon.  My printer wasn't cooperating or I think I might have added something else -- perhaps a different extravorganza photo? --  to the Bermuda composition.  Perhaps the blue chair should have been bigger?  Still, I like the notion of placing quilting elements atop the canvas; there's a dimensionality that I like.  I also really like my whimsical new blue chair, based on the chair photo I took earlier in the year.  I think this all merits a bit more exploration, though I'd love your thoughts / critique on how I could have improved the compositions.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Stranger's Challenge - Part II

A gentleman stranger challenged me to plant my tomatoes differently than I'd done in the past.   I did what he suggested without thinking twice.  Inspired by the fun of this experiment, I jumped straight into another: eco-dyeing.

Conceding a little to the fact that I don't have complete control over my schedule, I've decided to pursue cold dyeing as opposed to the more traditional dye extraction methods involving pots filled with simmering water that are carefully watched in an attempt to avoid turning everything brown.  I'm just not that good.  But with the cold temperature approach as described in India Flint's book Eco-Colour, harvested flora are first frozen and then allowed to steep in cold water to release their color.  That suits me just fine.

There are a number of lists of plants to use, though they are a bit is skewed to Flint's native Australia (I can only pick up eucalyptus at the store, instead of my backyard).  Still, all the possibilities are exciting to me and although neither is listed in any botanical dye list I could find in the book or on the internet, I scoured the yard on Saturday for dropped (and drooping) peony and rhododendron petals.  The rains had battered some of my peonies so I plucked the petals, leaving one denuded but still lovely flower

and jammed its petals into a Ziploc bag with all the rest I'd recovered.

The baggie now sits in my freezer, waiting for the day when I have time to see if any color will leech from the petals.  Chances are that nothing will come of it, but that's okay.  I have my PFD fabric ready to go, ash collected from the fireplace (thank heavens I hadn't cleaned the fireplace yet), and a giant aluminum stockpot I luckily found on sale at the grocery store, labelled for experimentation.

Yesterday some of my rose petals fell so I gathered those up too since they ARE supposed to create a wonderful dye.  Not surprisingly -- look at the gorgeous colors!  I think I need to gather more before I can dye. I don't know if the dye process will be impacted by petals harvested at different times and therefore, frozen for different lengths of time.  I wonder if the very light petals, which look bleached by the sun, can still give off any color.  I guess we'll find out.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Stranger's Challenge - Part I

As I waited at the checkout counter with my wagon full of flowers and vegetables, an elderly gentleman approached me saying, "You have some nice things in that wagon".  Seeing that he only had two items to pay for, I let him go ahead of me in line.

When he finished paying, he turned back to me and said, "You should really plant those tomatoes up to here", pointing to a spot a good four inches above the soil.  "See all the fuzz?  Each one is a root, waiting to take hold.  If you cut off these bottom branches and plant your tomato deeper, you'll get a better yield.  In fact, you can even bury this lowest branch and it will sprout as a root."


"Sure enough.  But if you don't believe me, why don't you plant one tomato deep and plant the other one as is and see what happens?"

When I got home, I cut the bottom branches off a tomato plant, dug a deep hole, and planted it as the gentleman suggested.

Later, with my feet up and a glass of wine in hand I wondered, Why am I so willing to experiment in my garden at the suggestion of a complete stranger?  Was it because the gentleman was so kindly?  Was the notion of an experiment so appealing?  Why didn't I care about the time and money spent on the tomato? I love fresh tomatoes; I feel like I'm biting into a piece of the sun every time I eat a freshly picked tomato.  I would be disappointed if there weren't any in my garden.  But instead of worrying about whether the experiment will work or whether I killed the plant, I'm excited to see if it's successful.  I can't wait to find out.

Now why don't I apply that same excitement to my artwork?  Why am I so hesitant, it seems, to explore the "what if"?

The gentleman stranger's tomato challenge struck a chord.  In my next post, I'll describe how it manifested itself over the weekend and changed my plans.