Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I've Been Neglecting France - Passage Paradis

I'm going to take a break from art week and do a little post about France.   Why?  Because I love it.  Why again? Because you love it.  (I've taken an informal sondage.)  And when you're tired and life takes effort, well why not the douceurs of France?

The clouds were JUST like that!

This was the view out my back windows when I lived in Aix-en-Provence, France.  I lived in the Vieille Ville, steps from the Cours Mirabeau.  The first day I arrived in town, I came up behind a lady shoo-ing her son down a cobblestone street.  The young lad was misbehaving a bit.  Maman was admonishing him:  "You'd better straighten up young man because next time I won't bring you to Aix!"  Severe punishment indeed!  Aix deprivation.  You bet that's serious.

I lived behind a dance studio.  I had a huge handful of keys with which to let myself in and I had a complicated schedule of admission hours.  i.e., I was only permitted access to my room when Madame did not have a dance class in session.  I broke this rule only twice maybe, and was rewarded with Madame looking down her straight freckled nose at me in exasperation while trying to maintain the illusion of being IN CONTROL of her universe.  The other reward was a good look at her dancers leaping about with big flopping what-looked-like broad white grain sacks over their heads and upheld arms (going pat-at-a-tat-tat-a) as I scurried past, trying to keep my street shoes off the parquet.  (I had to paint that, I did.)  Madame was an instructor in DANSE MODERNE.  She was a bit of a martinet with a perpetually lightly tanned, raw boned face, ramrod straight shoulders and burgundy hennaed gamin-cut hair to go with her orange leotard and plum colored footless tights.  She loved to clip-clop around in heavy clogs which I would hear echoing through her house in counterpoint to her "Marcel - MarCEL!"  When she was calling to her husband.  She did not acknowledge me when we met in the street.  That was Aix at the time.  Feudal social orders and all that.

As I've shared before, I was pretty much a Michigan girl in black t-shirt and jeans and so "abruti" by a life largely spent in "lake-effect" precipitation mostly of the gray overcast and frozen sort, that when I first got to Aix and saw the Montagne Ste. Victoire rising up in gleaming craggy majesty above the tiled roofs I was incapable of even saying: "HOW BEAUTIFUL!"  (Though it took my breath away.)  I was not even able to cognitively process the wonder.

From the side - it's just as beautiful.  And unspoiled.

I'm going on and on.  It wasn't love at first sight but it was love pretty quick.  It creeps up on you with the roast chickens and the chocolate bars and the chaussons aux pommes and pain aux raisins.  The hot croissants at 4 a.m. and the cafes expres.   And the haircuts.  (Aix is the home of Frederic Fekkai.) And beautiful coats. And shoes. SHOES!

But sometimes I did get homesick.  And I missed....hmmmm....fried chicken?  Pickup trucks?  Country and western music?  Motown?  

And plus remember, half Chinese?  Hawaiian born?  The Vietnamese restaurants with the reservedly solicitous ladies urging noodles on me and nem with tender little shrimps and coriander in them helped a little.  The beautiful palm trees and electric blue skies were reassuring.  But then I found......Rue Paradis.  RIGHT behind the street where I lived.  Off the winding Rue Aumone-Vieille which led to the groovy and private Place Erasmus, was a discreet opening in the buildings to the left.  And that lane led to garages - mostly closed.  And a large broad iron gate.  Joined up to a very tall broad imposing wall.  And behind it......just the tops - of palm trees.  Thinking.........the palm trees were somehow out my back window, but I could not see them.  However, they WERE there.

And if I could close my eyes, and lean very very far.  Out the window.  I would almost be there under them.  And maybe if I met someone?  Who would invite me there?

And it did look very very much like this - thanks to Maia Larkin  at Une Envie de Sel for her photo

So on lonely days, when the Mistral blew, when it was my birthday and I was missing those people from home, and Joni Mitchell was singing "It's Coming on Christmas" felt comforting to know that Paradise was not SO very far AWAY.

Many years later.  Years that could never have taken place in my Aix-era imaginings, my husband and I visited Paris. It was cold, it was November.  It was dark.  And we were grieving.  We were sitting in cafes trying desperately to warm ourselves up, a fruitless endeavor, and to distract ourselves we were leafing through real estate brochures, admiring Parisian life STYLE and wondering if it could ever be any kind of reality for us.  In this way we found:

Remember??????  Off the Rue Oberkampf, tucked alongside the cheap-and-cheerful Chinese stores and the graffiti-ed shutters?  Across from the Portzamparc Post Office that was so stunning the summer or two before??????  Around the block from Lou Pascalou where we saw the Koreans whup the Mexicans in '98??????  (Or the other way around!)

Oh! this peaceful exotic oasis full of geraniums and hollyhocks!  Grapevines.  And Jasmine.  Elephants. Artists.  So sunny.  So intimate.  So welcoming.  So private.  Right in the middle of Paris.


(SO EXPENSIVE!!!!!!  YIKES!  And so cold in winter!!!  Those houses are all glass!)

THREE-HUNDRED THOUSAND EUROS FOR THAT!!!!!!!!!  OH!  What a dream.  What a dream.

We could taste it.  We could feel the cobbles under our feet.  We could hear the key turn with a rattle in the latch.  We could feel the cold grabbing gasping of air as the door pushed open and the warm (?) air rushed out.  We could hear the echo of footsteps on the stones.  Murmuring voices.

Distant claxons on the Rue de la Republique.  Johnny Hallyday singing in some bar.


In life there are some patches ----  Patches that are good.  Some bad.  They will pass.  Passages - dreamy.
Clumsy.  Awful.  Breathtaking.  We get through them.  We get past them.  We discard them, dispose of them.  We move on.

What do we make of them?  What do they make of us?  Mostly we never go back.  We never go back.

But me, I made a picture. And a painting. And a blog.

And I stayed.  For a little moment more.


  1. and the cats? i´m always amazed about the cats and how the french love them. funny, whenever i´m homesick for vietnamese we cross the border. (only an hour from here.) and i go through joni phases too... love your descriptions. so glad there was a blog... :)

  2. funny you should ask jane - in fact there was a cat - who was as difficult to get to know as was her mistress the dance teacher! what you don't have cats in spain? now you're making me think of madeline and the spanish ambassadors son!

    thanks for coming by and leaving nice observations!

  3. love the text... and yes as Jane said glad about the blog! the painting is really gorgeous! you should post some more. have a lovely week end.

  4. wow, i just stumbled upon your blog and felt transported for a few minutes to an amazingly beautiful french village. thank you, i needed that today.

  5. What a great post. France looks like it's a fantastic place to live.

  6. If you ever take a little tour of artists to Paris and France in gerneral then I want to be on that trip Mlle Paradis...

    so beautiful!

  7. ...and hence "passage paradis."

    hollyhocks and elephants and artists. and yowling cats. and a wee painting by which to remember it all.

    you have lived five lifetimes, it seems. xo.

  8. Thanks all for stopping by! What more can I say? Really?

  9. Bien aimé votre peinture.

    Thanks for visiting my blog and leave a comment

    Have a nice week-end