Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

For the second week of my spring vacation, I headed south to Bordeaux.  My brother Zach came over from England because he not so secretly wishes he spoke French and lived in France.  Who, after living through an English winter and then seeing southern France, could think otherwise?  We decided to stay in Bordeaux, spending one full day and evenings there and then taking some day trips.  I like to think that we saw a lot of Bordeaux but that would be misleading.  We stayed near the old city section whose tiny cobblestone streets and sun drenched churches reminded me of Italy, and we didn’t venture far outside.  In fact, other than the mesmerizing reflection pool along the waterfront, we spent virtually our entire time in Bordeaux in the same plaza.  I don’t even really remember the name, but an old church offered one side and the remaining sides contained quant restaurants with outdoor seating shaded by leafy trees, wide umbrellas, and twinkling lanterns.  All of our meals out in Bordeaux were eating in this plaza.  To be more specific, all of our dinners were eaten in the same restaurant, La Taverne Saint-Pierre.  Stones have fierce loyalty.  Our initial good dinner prompted us to boldly decide that this was the best restaurant in Bordeaux, or at least our favorite.  Zach’s French is rather limited to the enthusiastic “Très Bien!” and so every time the server/owner/ sous chef asked how anything was, Zach would just make appreciative faces and pronounce it “Trrrrrrèèèsss bien!” But then again, it was.

If I thought the pace of life was deliciously slow in Paris, it is nothing compared to southern France.  The trams piddled along at a pace only slightly faster than walking, our hotel casually gave me the key without demanding any form of payment or ID, and our meals lasted late into the night.  I think it is something about the sun that just makes you want to slow down and bask.  One day we took the train to the town of Arcachon to spend the day at the beach.  Expecting all sorts of street side vendors, we instead found ourselves a little pressed to find sandwiches to buy.  But that did mean it was an afternoon of reading and relaxation that one is hard pressed to find at say, Virginia Beach.  Yes, for one afternoon at the beach, we had to bring 2 books a piece because Stones live in fear of finishing a book and not having another to start.

But by far our favorite part of the trip was our day spent in the tiny medieval town of Saint-Émilion, from which come all of these pictures.  Nestled in the heart of Bordeaux’s wine country, Saint-Émilion is a perfect gem of steep stone streets, hidden alleys overhung in flowers, and horizons covered in endless vineyards.  After exploring the village, we rented bikes to cycle through country.  One of my friends in Paris has family who run a vineyard nearby so we peddled over for a visit.  My friend had told me that when she is at Michotte, you seem to step out of time, and nothing could have been closer to the truth.  We had cake and tea in a bright kitchen with the windows open and listened to a brief spring rainstorm before having a tour of the premises.  I was a little sad to hear that people no longer stomp the grapes, but at least at Michotte they are still picked by hand.

I left Michotte and Saint-Émilion thinking that the whole process of winemaking is very reminiscent of the area it comes from.  It is a process, a life that cannot be rushed, that develops its greatest savor after being allowed to rest for a while.  It is a lesson in patience, but more over a lesson in the benefit of doing things slowly, of stepping outside of time so as to best use it.


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Have you ever realized that we are insanely drawn to light?  Like raccoons that will pursue anything sparkly, humans incline towards light.  Our souls aspire to warmth and sun.  We were meant for summer.  This doesn’t mean that darkness doesn’t have a place, but only so much as it emphasizes light.  Night is worthwhile for the stars, and shadows frame perfect pools of light.

As someone who loves painting and photography, I am always looking for good light.  I think when it comes down to it, it is the most important element in both.  No amount of color or perfection of line can save a picture devoid of good light.  It tells us what is important and where we should focus.  Every period of painters have dealt with light differently.  With photos, you seek it out or you manufacture it with a flash, but with painting it is different.  You have the ability to illuminate and obscure with more precision, more purpose.

When talking about light and painting, we inevitably arrive at the Impressionists, those painters of light.  Inspired to forsake their studios for plein air (open air) studies, they became fascinated with the impressions left by different lights falling on an object.  Monet, perhaps the most famous of the impressionists devoted countless studies to the same simple objects in a desperate attempt to understand how the light present changed the entire image.   But of course, what we instantly think of when we hear the name Monet are those endless fields of sun soaked red poppies and tranquil pools dappled with light and water lilies.  Monet’s gardens are located in Giverny, a little town about an hour from Paris, and last Saturday, Jenny, my friend Emma and I headed north to see the gardens that inspired and surrounded this artist.

It was one of those impossible sunny days that makes you think summer supplanted spring, and the tulips were out in full bloom, filling the gardens with perfect bright bowls of color.  We wandered slowly through aisles of flowers and wound our way slowly through his house, equally full of bright colors.  Looking out at those gardens, who could not have become an artist?  Who could have resisted attempting to immortalize the brilliant blossoms and play of light among the leaves?  After spending several tranquil hours in Monet’s sun drenched world, we ambled slowly through the sleepy village before settling in the warm grass with buckwheat crêpes. From my research as a curatorial assistant at an art museum last summer, I know that Monet was kind of a whiney human being and a rather terrible husband to his first wife.  He ignored all responsibility in his (initially very un-lucrative) pursuit of capturing light.  I am inclined to think ill of him.  But then I see his gardens, look at his paintings.  I see how he captured not just how something looked, but the impression that the light across a subject rendered. And I can’t help but think that maybe it was worth it.

My painting professor at Hillsdale College was an avid fan of the 20th century American painter Andrew Wyeth.  During his own college years he made several unsuccessful attempts to meet Mr. Wyeth, yet he finally was able to speak with him over the phone. Wyeth’s final word of advice to the young artist who would later help form my own artistic opinions was the very profound: “Light and shadows, pain like hell!”  On one occasion at least, I know this was chanted in our art studio, and it is something I think of every time I raise a paintbrush.  Light and shadows. Doesn’t all of life come down to that?

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