Creative Life Travels Anywhere and Everywhere
Creative Life goes almost anywhere and at anytime. Sometimes it relies on mind-travel. Other times it travels more geographically. This time it travelled by airplane from Vancouver to Paris, where we spent several days. We then drove one long day southward to the village of Rognes in Provence.
Paris - Montmartre
Setting a jet-lagged foot in a Paris we had not seen in many years, we chose a spot we'd loved before. We booked a room at the Timhotel at the top of steep Montmartre. It's near Sacré Coeur Basilica, a quintessentially scenic spot visible from much of the city. The room was typically small but adequate. And the views were marvellous (see photos). Placed atop Montmartre, our windows opened to gorgeous views of this famous neighbourhood. As a treat for us when wandering throughout Paris, we could often see the tower and dome of Sacré Coeur and reorient.
Walking outside the hotel door, right beside us was the Bateau Lavoir, studio home to a very young, very poor Picasso and a similar group of not yet famous artists.
What was it about this place that made Montmartre the vital place it was and is?
Its bohemian, left-bank ambiance? Its steeply cobble-stoned paths that were (and still are) dotted with small cafés, busy into the night and filled with an assortment of colourful people? Its notorious Moulin Rouge at the nearby Pigalle. Its (then) low-rent?
Whatever it was way back then, Montmartre still holds a sense of life and vitality. And the Metro stop down the hill at Abbesses will take you almost anywhere in the city.
Paris- Musée d'Orsay
What a city, indeed! Paris must be on everyone's bucket list. Having visited several times in the past, we decided not to be tourists who wanted to take in as many sights as possible. Instead, we chose to re- visit just one museum, that beautifully converted Beaux-Arts railway station known as the Gare d'Orsay with its huge and wonderful collection of paintings and sculpture. We took a cab there in order to pass by the re-construction of Notre Dame, a sad sight for all who recall its grandeur.
Sitting on the banks of the Seine, the museum was highlighting an exhibition of works by Edvard Munch, whose "Scream" you likely know. But you can feast on great works by so many Impressionist and Post- Impressionist artists that your eyes begin to water from the overload. The d'Orsay likely contains works by every renowned artist (especially French) of these great creative epochs in European art. I was also delighted to see a major painting by the contemporary African-American artist, Kehinde Wiley, featured on the main floor.
Strolling the streets of Paris and stopping wherever we chose were the most important things to do on our absent itinerary. And so we did. Most of the time, we wandered around the Marais, our top-of-the-list favourite area to live in Paris. In our dreams, we would live at the Place des Voges. In reality, we just sat on benches at this very old plaza and looked up at the surrounding apartments, built as a royal residence in the 1600s.
Victor Hugo lived there in the 19th C, and his apartment remains an interesting visit into another time and mind. Not only a famed author exiled for a time for his anti-royalist and liberal political views, Hugo was quite a good visual artist (surreal and symbolic) with some of his small paintings on display.
Relevant to more mundane matters, the food (as expected) was fine wherever we went, and we went nowhere fancy. Like many, we preferred the many outdoor cafés. Before leaving Paris, I bought a tourist sweatshirt. I wanted one I had imagined, emblazoned with Edith Piaff's lyrics, "je ne regrette rien". No one seems to have made that one yet or, at least, I never found it. We left the next day.
Provence in the South of France - the village of Rognes
After a very long day's drive from Paris, we have settled in Rognes, an ancient village in the Bouche du Rhône, located near the Durance River. It's not far from the capital of this perennially stunning region of Provence: 19 km northwest of Aix-en-Provence (Aix on the map). Rognes is not one of the prized tourist destinations of the region and so it seems, in my view, an even more welcome spot for just living the local life.
Everyday Sights in Rognes
The town center is pleasant and very small. You can see its plaza in the photo. We live nearby -- in the more rural part of town.
Like so many villages in Europe, Rognes has an interesting history of having been built, destroyed, and rebuilt over the centuries. Known for its stone and open-air quarries used since human habitation, Rognes was almost abandoned after an earthquake levelled it in the early 1900s. A few old buildings have survived, but it's not the architecture that calls one here. It's the setting that rules in this rural landscape of wine and truffles.
We live in a lovely rented cottage outside the town and overlooking an expanse of open hills. Our neighbour, Marco Polo, is a friendly Bassett pup. Marco lives with a charming and multi-lingual family that owns this property (see photo). The place is named the Solar de Provence (see its website).
The remains of an old fortress in Rognes sit atop La Foussa, the big hill here, that shows you the famous stones of the region (exported for chateau in Aix and elsewhere). The fortress is also famous for its open "window", known as a spot of deaths by defenestration: the act of throwing a person from a window, a rather infamous habit practiced across regions in European history.
It's taken a few days to get "lived-in", and we're still speaking a very rusty and mangled Franglish, but it feels great just being here. Great light and colours of the air, great baguettes, great wine, great little town market on Wednesdays, great scenery, great sitting out on the wide porch and watching Marco or exploring and playing with him or venturing out on our own. Not much, really. But the treasure here is learning how to. Learning, via the everyday pleasures of seeing and being here, to let go of the incessant internal engine that keeps driving us to more, more, and more. Sometimes, it may take going a continent away to manage this.... and hopefully bring it on home!
In any case, I've set up a studio spot in the house, but I'm not wanting to paint. Not yet. Not wanting to visit big tourist spots either. It's a series of "nots" that keep coming up for me. A letting go of the usual "musts" and "shoulds". I'm not wanting to do anything really, except to breathe deeply in this richly coloured air, feel the good moments, walk open- eyed and slowly through the land, and decide with my dear partner: "So, what shall we do today? It's a gift to be able to do so. And I know it.
Stay tuned for the next instalment of Creative Life: En Route. In the meantime, some of the other articles in this Creative Life news blog may interest you. Check in at https://www.janetstrayer.com/creative-life-news. Bon voyage!