The last time I saw Paris was 1984. Heartbroken after a 6-week European journey with Monsieur Wrong, I stayed with dear friends and mostly moped around missing most of what the City of Lights has to offer. I returned this Spring with a sympatico traveling companion and no particular plans. We stayed with my same dear friends at their 8th etage apartment near Montmarte, a 1 km walk past the wall of the Cimitière du Nord to a major Métro stop.
Our hosts fed us pain au chocolat and introduced me to the civilized dining tradition of fromage avec salade, served after dinner and before dessert. They helped with tourist information (“which museum do you want to stand in line in front of?”) and weather reports (we experienced an unusual phenomenon, la neige roulée – like soft hail).
Line at the Beauborg
Line at the Musee D’Orsay
One of our few goals was to visit E. Dehillerin near Les Halles where chefs have been buying cooking supplies for just shy of two centuries. While in the city center, figuring out where we were provided much of the entertainment as we wandered past rue Jacob in the Marais and stumbled on Shakespeare and Company in the 5th arrondisement. Don’t bother with Les Halles – it’s now just like any American mall.
E. Dehillerin near Les Halles
After a few days in Paris, we picked up a car at Gare du Nord (it sounds so easy, but the car itself was in the bowels of the Gare and required taking tickets to open gates and reinserting them to open new gates as we spiraled up to finally exit into the traffic of Paris, sacre bleu!).
Nevermind; the sweet-voiced GPS (borrowed from our hosts and programmed for anglais) guided us on the Boulevard Périphérique, then south past huge fields of yellow rape and around innumerable round-abouts toward St. Lactencin (southeast of the Loire valley) to visit a long-time friend and his lovely wife. Both artists, they’re living in and restoring a 150-year-old country home that had been in his family since it was built. Since their English was limited, but much better than our French, we muddled through quite happily in franglais, although we were never quite certain how much was understood. Our fluency and bonhomie grew with each verre du vin.
Field of Rape
St. Lactencin Farmhouse
St. Lactencin Farmhouse
Near St. Lactencin, we spent an afternoon watching gulls do what comes naturally in Spring at Parc naturel régional de la Brenne and picked up chèvre and a baguette at the outdoor market for the journey to Bretagne. Our hosts supplemented our hamper with yogurt, homemade coing gelée (quince jelly), and jambon – une grande pique-nique.
South of Orléans, we ventured to Loches (a medieval town on the Indre river near troglodytic caves that can be seen from the road), Château de Chambord (recently famous in flood photos), and Château d’Azay-le-Rideau. It was nice to see the ubiquitous restoration efforts, but scaffolding presents challenges to photography.
Château de Chambord
Château de Chambord
At this time of year, it’s possible to book lodging just one or two days in advance allowing flexibility in your itinerary. We aimed to stay in Candes-Saint-Martin on the south side of the Loire river, but found a more affordable B and B on the north side in Chouzé-sur-Loire. The place was slightly creepy due to abundant taxidermy, but our host, Sebastian, charmed us and made us an excellent dinner of soupe au pistou, seafood pasta, and gâteau au citron. Compared with dinners prepared by our friends, it was on the light side. What, no fromage? Sebastian spoke English well and advised us to go to Candes-Saint?Martin on our way to Château de Brézé. However, between the cool, dripping weather and our excitement to get to Brézé, we neglected Candes-Saint-Martin. The Château de Brézé was first built in 1060 AD and then rebuilt in the 16th and 19th centuries. It has a Renaissance exterior and a deep dry moat, which is accessed from the 12th century troglodytic understory of the château.
Château de Brézé from the bottom of the dry moat
Château de Brézé
Château de Brézé
It was not a long drive from Brézé to Vannes and our nondescript hotel, located in the center of this medieval town and across from a bakery with a line out the door. (This would be the place to get pain au chocolat and a baguette in the morning.) We followed the dining recommendation of the front desk clerk, who made our reservation and pointed us in the right direction. After a walk in the gardens, we found our way to the restaurant and were served by an animated, multilingual, and gregarious waiter, who made theater of our dinner. We had our first huîtres of the trip and sublime crème brûlée.
The next stop was Rennes, a medium-sized city that seems like a stop-over on the way to somewhere else. But the sun shone after some days of grey, and we found it a lively place. Young people swarmed a few of the smaller streets, which harbored a music festival, and crowds sat on the ground or at dining tables enjoying beer, wine, and the local cuisine. We were charmed by the pretty parts of the city, especially the Parc du Thabor and a lovely marina where families strolled. It was after all, Spring, and the garden displayed a huge variety of tulips and flowering trees in its 10 hectares. Our hotel, The Magic House, named its rooms; we never did figure out why ours was le Big Lebowski. Was it the giant sweater hanging on the wall or the long staircase to the loft with the low beam at the top?
May is full of French holidays, and Brittany was crowded with French sightseers and school groups. I stood out as a foreigner in my wide-brimmed sun hat. Later, I asked my Parisian host, a physician, Is there no melanoma in France? Yes, she said, but we don’t wear hats. C’est comme ça.
Apparently I live under a rock because before this trip I hadn’t heard of St. Malo with its beautifully restored walled old town (a key setting in Anthony Doerr’s recent best-seller All the Light We Cannot See) or nearby Mont St. Michel (a UNESCO world heritage site). Since both were highly recommended, we booked two nights in St. Malo in a baronial manor house. The dining room was full of lodgers at breakfast, including the guests who stayed in a gypsy-like caravan in the back garden. The croissants were so good we wanted some for the road and were directed to a bakery a few hundred meters away. The abbey at Mont St. Michel has stood since the 9th century most likely because of its setting at the peak of a tiny island with sand and sea as its moat. A town grew up around it that now supports the tourist trade. Walk up or out to get away from the shops; the island and surrounding beach are even more beautiful from a distance.
Mont St. Michel
We drove back to Paris via Chartres, the start of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostelo, only a 913 km walk that you will have to map out yourself since most of the French part of the route is now highways. The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres is a lovely place to contemplate making the journey. Maybe another time; now we go back to our Parisian friends for a few more days and then return to the US, reality, and the presidential election. Non!
What to do with our remaining time in Paris besides continue our search for even more perfect baguettes? Paris had become warm and sunny. We went with our friends to the Cimetière du Montparnasse to see the Niki de Saint Phalle sculptures. This is what people in their sixties enjoy; that, and a bit of lunch near the corner of the Jardin du Luxembourg where the bee hives sit. Later we had dinner at the Grand Palais and took an evening stroll through the Place de la Concorde – currently home to Paris’s anachronistic giant ferris wheel.
Paris Ferris Wheel
On the last day, we visited Sainte-Chappelle, the less famous church on the Île de la Cité, where soaring stained glass windows tell every biblical story or so it seems. I made a feeble attempt at shopping, trying on shoes in the Robert Clergerie shop in the 6th arrondisement (trop d’euros!) and hunting for chocolate. I would have happily spent my euros on cute French shoes, but unfortunately they had none I liked in my size. It was too hot to buy chocolate and carry it on the Métro, so I left Paris with nothing bought but a few bars of soap. In the airport, La Maison du Chocolat sold me 35 euros worth, which amounted to only about 2 dozen (spectacularly delicious) pieces.
Alas, it was bittersweet to leave my friends, the City of Lights, la belle France with so much still to see and do. Maybe I’ll go back for an extended vacation; let’s see how the election turns out.
All Photos by Fred Cohen/Fred Cohen Photography
Pier 94, at the Hudson River and West 53rd Street, is once again hosting the ArtExpo 2016. Hundreds of artists, art publishers, gallery owners, illustrators and photographers gather in this annual convention, claimed to be the world largest fine arts trade show. But I like it for its diversity of talent and personalities and, typical of New York, the breadth of participating nationalities. Yes, there are exhibitors whose work seems hackneyed. There are artists repeating from prior years. But each year there are a new crop of aspiring artists of all ages and a spectrum of artists whose works seem particularly fresh or surprising. And whether by inclination or simply good marketing sense, the exhibitors (particularly the artists), will talk to you at length about their work and histories.
I share here some of what I found this year. (Taking notes in the course of a running conversation, often with a handful of promotional materials tucked under one arm and a camera bag on the other, I may have recorded some detail in an illegible script that leads me to err here; if I have so erred, I apologize to my subjects – but know that it will not detract a jot from the pleasure of the works on display or the process of making your own discoveries.)
Fritsch and Walpole, photographers. Octogenarian Chuck Fritsch and Cynthia Walpole, energetic and gracious husband and wife, have spent the last five years photographing hummingbirds in Costa Rica. Fritsch had a long career as an all purpose commercial photographer before arriving at this project. Walpole was raised in Costa Rica – where friends and family remain. They have developed a very effective 14 strobe lighting set up that enables them to capture these scintillating living jewels in remarkable detail and color that the human eye is incapable of seeing – because of the speed with which these tiny creatures move and the typically variegated light in which we see them. The spine of each feather is clearly limned in this process and, consequently, one’s first reaction is to ask – are these real?
Fritsch & Walpole
Costa Rica is home to about 50 species of hummingbirds, most of which are wonderfully iridescent with rich coloration. Fritch and Walpole have captured a good variety of them. Using software, the bird images are then extracted from the rather plain backdrop of the photo stage and artfully superimposed on exotic foliage and a dark background to set off the birds’ colors.
As with most wild life photography, especially in this day of digital imaging, an excessive number of images are taken of each subject that the public finally gets to see. Fritsch and Walpole claim an archive of above one million images. What many amateur photographers fail to appreciate is that the selection of the underlying image file and the “post processing” are responsible for a great part of the visual impact of the final pictures. Fritsch and Walpole pursue this with loving care. See: https://www.FocusFrog.com.
Asit Kumar Patnaik, Painter. Patnaik, a personable young Indian, originally hails from Berhampur, Orissa and now resides in New Delhi. His first foray into art as a young child was to model in clay the deities that were part of the local holiday traditions in Orissa. He pursued a formal art education gaining a BFA from the Government College of Art and Craft in Khallikote and later an MFA from the Banaras Hindu University. Patnaik is much decorated at home, has won numerous awards and been often exhibited. He is represented by galleries in New Delhi and Abu Dhabi.
Patnaik is considered a “semi-figurative realist”; a phrase I can’t quite deconstruct. Nonetheless, his images (based solely on those he has brought to the ArtExpo) are somewhat ethereal, serene and intriguing and, without meaning to detract from the seriousness of the art, simply pleasing in the forms and pallet. He experiments with surface textures – some impressed on the works and some educed from them by stressing the surfaces. The result is a suggested sense of history and pleasing feeling of solidity, as if the works are painted on something more substantial than canvas. Patnaik describes his paintings as reflecting subtle and shifting relationships between figures. These figures are typically set on abstract backgrounds that have “personalities” in their own right. He encourages each viewer’s personal interpretation of the underlying stories. By agreement with his New Delhi gallery, he does not show his work on a website but it can be found in abundance with most search engines.
Kaleo, mixed media artist. Kaleo (meaning, in his native Hawaiian, the voice or the music or the song) is a musician, artist and designer. He clearly has energy for all of these and more, and exudes an aspirational enthusiasm. I paused here as much for the artist as the art. While attending to the booth for Berkeley’s Gallery Giuseppe, Kaleo was wearing earrings, a black, white and silver brocade jacket adorned with military stripe patches of his own design, a tie and vest; his hair was concentrated atop his head (where I sport little); and his smile was as broad as his face. His father, uncles and brothers are all musicians in some manner – so that pursuit seemed a natural direction for Kaleo. Indeed, at some point he was signed to Mercury/Universal Records and, as a producer, singer and songwriter, had music featured in movies and television. But the visual arts (and fashion) reflect an obvious and irrepressible independence. Despite a seemingly Dickensian childhood, Kaleo has become a family man with a wife (teaching pre-school) and two young sons. If you are permitted to dig, even a little, into most lives, they are usually revealed to be fascinatingly rich and remarkably challenging.
Kaleo’s art includes social and political commentary that, in his words, “juxtaposes society’s overindulgent obsession with celebrity against its perverse compulsion for consumerism,” a concept consistent with my expectations for a Berkeley denizen (as a former Berkeley-ite myself). Unremarkably in that light, Kaleo waxed enthusiastic over Bernie Sanders. Indeed, it was a mixed media piece incorporating Sanders that first caught my eye (anticipating, as I was, the final pre-primary, New York democratic debate the same evening.) Kaleo’s visual works incorporate contemporary iconography (movie stars, sports and political figures, corporate insignia) and exhibit a rough energy not yet constrained by formal training. See www.artworkbykaleo.com.
Giuseppe Palumbo, sculptor. The progenitor of the Gallery Giuseppe is a trim and dapper middle-aged man with a quiet panache and a natural graciousness. He started his career in building and construction and, in his thirties, started taking studio art classes. Palumbo pursued classes for a decade in parallel with his profession. Toward the end of that decade he sold his first cast sculpture (in the style of a classical Greek torso) and dreamed of making a career in art. He mortgaged the house and gambled (now successfully) on that career. He credits a firm rooting in sound business practice with enabling him to make that transition. He has attended the Florence Academy of Art and continues to study and learn. His art is primarily cast statuary and much of it reflects a humor that, quite intentionally, avoids condescension. It is not intended to be “cute” but to combine sophisticated fine art with a bearable lightness of being (with apologies to Milan Kundera). Palumbo related his revelatory pleasure at the suggestion of a commenter that Polumbo’s work simply made him happy.
The large female head shown here is in fact a fountain that, for its full effect, requires a basin and plumbing. The hairdo comprises 20 fish; a fish forms a shawl on her shoulders and, a fish tail, the bodice of her bust. When plumbed, water emerges from both the head and the “shawl” fish.
Palumbo has established his studio within the confines of an Italian-owned foundry in Berkeley. (Italians remain among the best foundry workers for art, perhaps having honed, and passed down, metallurgical skills learned in the Renaissance.) See www.gallerygiuseppe.com.
Takashi Kajiyama, calligrapher. Several artists were at active work while at the show. Takashi Kajiyama, a calligrapher from Hiroshima, wielded his brush with almost aggressive intensity, momentarily contemplating each thrust and then executing it and briefly returning to repose. Each piece was sealed with a red chop. Kajiyama is a second generation Hiroshima survivor and is attempting to address issues of humanity and peace in his work. He was too engaged for conversation during my brief stay. He is widely exhibited in Japan, the US (New York and LA), China and Brazil.
Most artists were at ease and at liberty to share their vision and happy to talk about their work. I could only wish that museums were able to display their work in this manner – with live access to the artists; a most enjoyable way to experience art – one I highly recommend.