Each morning I walk out to my cherry trees and CLAP CLAP CLAP. Birds scatter after feasting on my cherries. They tend to eat all the cherries that are one day from perfection, beating me to the punch by 24 hours. Enough was enough. A tall friend came by, climbed up the ladder and harvested what was left. CLAP CLAP CLAP.
Yield: 2 jars of compote from 2 large cherry trees.
So I went to the cherry farm nearby and bought more. Then made a pie and sat outside to eat it in front of the birds. Take THAT.
Even though yields were down, the cherry trees are a delight. They blossoms in spring, follow with fruit in early summer, and provide shade for the rest of the summer. CLAP CLAP CLAP.
Before I mashed my bowl of cherries, I made a painterly study of them.
I added radishes, which I’m glad to report, birds don’t like to eat.
And strawberries, which the birds ate before I could even get a photo. This berry is from the farm nearby:
It is nice to be hanging out in Norfolk County in Canada. It is called “Ontario’s Garden,” and it really is living up to its tagline. I moved away when I went to university and never fully moved back until now. Back then I was more interested in socializing with my friends to care about the charms of Pick Your Own Strawberry signs. Plus, I didn’t have wheels or money for any of it. Even last year when I was here, I was too tired with chemo treatments to venture far. But now I’m back, baby, full head of curls, a few scars, wheels, time and energy.
Bring on the berries.
I don’t even dare tell you what I spent on strawberries for fear that my husband will read this. But he likes the jam. He also likes the pie I made yesterday so I’m not telling you how much those cost either. It’s not that either of these fruits is expensive, per se. It’s more about volume. So. Many. Berries.
As I was pitting cherries yesterday, feeling the breeze from the lake waft in, I was thinking about how much fun I was having. Pitting cherries! It was a delight. I suppose the birds did me a solid by eating most of my harvest. I might not think it so fun if I had thousands of cherries to pit. As I was pitting said cherries, I was pondering how we don’t make much time for fun these days. We buy things for fun but we don’t use them. Instead we buy more storage solutions to house the fun things. I’ve been really concentrating on not buying for fun but instead playing with what I’ve already purchased. (Flats of fruits aside.) Lucky for me, I’ve got a great teacher who knows how to have fun:
Yes she’s dressed as Santa’s Little Helper, and yes it’s July. But it still fits… in all the ways. Today we went to the cemetery and had the best time. We weren’t there to visit anyone. It’s just a nice shady place to go for a walk. We came across a baby bird who was as curious about Amélie as Amélie was about her. So I softened my stance on birds. They aren’t all cherry hungry scallywags. Back in Paris, I visited the cemeteries in summer because they had the most shade. This of course, is said to change. Paris is planning to plant more trees to keep the city cool as world temperature rises. It can’t come fast enough.
Speaking of heat, I sent out the July Paris Letter. The original art is also listed in the shop:
I spotted an art student drawing this lamp once. It was so good.
A very nice shady day activity.
If you haven’t received your Paris Letter yet, the post office tells me it’s due to holidays in July. If you’d like one, go here. Speaking of, I believe the Paris Letters will end with the December 2020 letter. That means a countdown hath begun. 18 letters remain. This is not a decision I’ve come to lightly. Last year, when I was diagnosed with cancer, before I knew exactly what was where, I quietly unlisted my 12 month subscription just in case I… gulp… died. But after the scans and tests, and the discovery that the chemo was working very well, I decided to relist the 12 month subscription. (I also had a renewed vigor to outlive my enemies, but that’s another story.) I never mentioned this slight, silent move. Not to anybody. Not even Christophe. Not even to my mom. A year later with all that behind me, I can make a sound decision and plan based on something other than… death. I’ve got another 18 letters in the hopper. It’s going to be a great time, and ending the series will open up time and energy for another project. I’m thinking by then it might be time for another book.
So if you’d like to subscribe, allez to the shop. There is a special link for 18 monthers, only until the end of July.
Paris markets are showing off their spring veggies. Most of the time I gasp with glee when I see the mounds of radishes and cherries. But then this jerk comes along:
White asparagus is just regular asparagus that has been buried deeper or covered with soil so it can’t reach the surface for a breath of sunlight to help it turn green. For more information, go to this handy article:
Already I feel suffocated just looking at this monstrous injustice.
And people buy it… loads of it… and it’s pricey. The bunch shown above was 15 Euros. If they only knew it was just tortured regular asparagus, available at the next booth for 2 Euro. White asparagus doesn’t even taste as good as green asparagus… I bought an entire lunch including wine once for 15 Euros with white asparagus on the side. What. Is. All. The. Fuss?
Even if green asparagus was bad for me I’d eat it. A little heat, a little butter, a little salt and you’ve got yourself a party on your palate. But the white version? Non merci.
So that’s what this month’s June Paris Letter is all about. A rant about tortured grasses against the backdrop of the lovely Place Monge market in the 5th.
In my youth, I would have examined the possible projections. What is it REALLY about white asparagus that I loathe? What does the white asparagus represent? (YA… obvs.) How can I learn to FORGIVE the white asparagus? To even love it?
I would have done self inquiry up the wazoo. Worked out some kinks in the psyche. But now, either with age or life or time, I just eat my green asparagus and have a good time. And pat myself on the back for painting a fountain that turned out well. Painting water can be tricky.
Also, I’m slowly listing more original art in the shop. Some of it was featured in the books, some in letters. And a few made their one and only splashy debut in my shop. It’s time for them to leave my binders and go find the sunshine on walls around the world. Ahhh now there is the projection. Knew it was there somewhere.
More original art will be posted all summer long, but for now, it’s time for lunch and green asparagus is on the menu.
I used to imagine what an author got up to before a book signing. The night before there would be a gala. Photos. Nylons. Shiny faces. Polite nods from the author while people gush. In the hours before, they’d have press junkets and events. They’d take interviews and meetings in a quiet corner of the Ritz. They would meet with the publisher to run the numbers. All good, obviously. The BBC would show up to pitch the miniseries. The author would nod. Considering. The author’s people would talk later to the BBC’s people. Handshakes. So-pleasing-to-meet-each-others would flutter by in the thick air of the hotel lobby.
This Mother’s Day weekend I had a book signing. In the hour before, I was cleaning my wedding ring. Some people like to see it since I wrote about it in Paris Letters. During this, Amélie had spilled my huge water bottle all over the kitchen floor, then ran through it, leaving little footprint tracks through the house. Christophe was wiping, she was running, I was trying to fluff up my weird hair. It came in curly after the chemo and I don’t know what to do with it. I was hoping for a Shakepeare & Company’s Sylvia Beach Whitman look…
But I felt I was closer to…
What I have learned in these situations, when one isn’t feeling great appearance-wise, is to wear a happy dress, lots of makeup and a big smile.
So that’s what I did. Then I kissed them goodbye, walked around the puddle and said, “Mommy has to go be famous for the afternoon,” which even made Christophe laugh as he was mopping up the spill.
The book signing was great. I’m always amazed at how people will show up for these things. My niece Grace was my assistant and I’m even amazed that I actually required an assistant but I did. That’s how many people were buzzing about buying books and showing up with their well-loved copies. Oh how I love to see a beat up old copy of Paris Letters. Oh how I love to discover how it got someone through a tough time or inspired them to action. Oh how I love to learn that A Paris Year became a guidebook for a trip to Paris. I find guidebooks generally boring, so I take this as a high compliment.
Here I am with… the hair.
Oh dear. Dori of Cottage North Soapworks was so kind to create the event, take this photo above, and generally push me to get back out there and be authorly after my year of being sickly.
Will my hair ever relax? You know, you survive cancer and you’re grateful and happy you get to raise your kid and hang out with your husband without dying on them early in the game. And yet, there is still this stupid hangup about hair and weight and age. Oh to return to how I looked before… when I was actively judging myself with all the same things.
I guess that’s life. A deeper understanding when going through big life events. To feel all the things. Astonishment that people drive so far to get your signature. Astonishment that you’re still hung up on your looks. Astonishment that part of the dream includes spills.
I was on a city bus in Paris a few years ago. I was going with a friend to the hospital where she was to undergo surgery the next day. We were nervous. The bus drove by the Eiffel Tower and we remarked that we never thought the dream of living in Paris would include driving by the Eiffel Tower on the way to the hospital for surgery. But there it is. Both glee and stress in the same breath.
Maybe one of these days, I’ll be having quiet talks with press people in the lobby of a fancy hotel in Paris before being whisked off to a book signing. I wonder what will be on the margins of that event. How old will Amélie be? Will she be heading off to the park with daddy for the afternoon while I sign books? Or will she be off with friends for the day, too old for the park. If so, I’d like to think Christophe is in the hotel lobby, too, but sitting at the bar watching the scene. Smiling over and blowing me a kiss, both of us remembering the spill in the kitchen and Amélie’s little footprints all over the house.
I’ve been collecting old copies of Paris-themed books for my new collages.
I’m having SO MUCH FUN reading these old paper treasures. I particularly love reading what others before me have underlined. Some of these underlined passages are poignant and lovely. Others are a mystery. Why did the reader underline THAT? You start to judge the anonymous underliners as either people with great taste whom you could befriend, or people who are weirdos. There is no in between.
In gathering these told treasures, I’ve come across a slew of different versions of A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. Feast your eyes on this… I had no idea there were so many. AND I only investigated the French and English versions. Incroyable.
Shakespeare & Company, one of the English bookstores in Paris, sells more copies of A Moveable Feast than any other title. However, I like to zip around the corner to the Canadian bookshop, The Abbey Bookshop on 29 rue de la Parcheminerie, 75005 Paris. The reason for this is simple: It has MANY COPIES of MANY BOOKS and if they don’t have it, they’ll order it for you.
Many, many books.
In other news, I completed my 100th Paris Letter. (Cue the trumpets!)
This letter began with a commissioned to create a collage including some of those lovely old papers from those ratty (but lovely) books.
The commissions are good for my brain and spirit. They help me see Paris from a different point of view and they distract me from wondering about health and the future and fires and politics and weeds. If you’d like a painting or collage of Paris, let me know over at my shop. It might become a future Paris Letter. It definitely makes for a fun Mother’s Day gift. Speaking of, I’ll be doing a book signing in Port Dover, Ontario at Cottage North on Saturday May 11th You can purchase books to sign, and bring whatever books you’ve already acquired. I’ll sign anything… except body parts and animals. We might go for drinks after… we’ll have our own moveable feast.
It’s happened too often. Christophe arrives home. I say, “Did you hear about… Paris?” He looks at me and almost visibly withers. “What now?”
I tell him.
“Don’t know. Still on fire.”
And since then we’ve been TV zombies. A quick scan of my photos shows countless images of Notre Dame I’ve taken over the years. Seems every time I walk by or stop in, another photo gets added to the collection. She’s just so gosh darn pretty. I also really like the photos when she’s peering over in the background, like a benevolent mumsie. Here’s just a few photos of our pretty lady.
Hey, y’all. Come on in.
Oh just another regular day of looking fabbie.
I wonder if the trees are still there or did the heat get to them. They frame Notre Dame so very nicely.
You can’t help but take photos from every angle. This is from a boat ride on the Seine.
My Uncle Brad and I when he came to Paris.
This is one of my favourite photos. My Aunt Mary and Uncle Brad look like true aristocrats zipping around town. Fancy.
St. Denis holding his head in disbelief.
Emmanuel the belle bell.
Even the graffiti is pretty.
The nieces surveying the scene.
After all those photos of blooming trees, I had to make a Paris Letter, obviously. It ended up in my book PARIS LETTERS a few years later. It’s had a renaissance over in the shop since the fire. Everyone wants a piece of prettier days. The May letter is going out early since the event. You can’t write Paris Letters and NOT include the events this week.
Photos of the interior break my heart, too. Many broken things.
That St. Denis is everywhere.
I’ve always liked this statue. A serene moment.
These statues flew away last week for safekeeping during the renovations. All isn’t lost. This photo of the bookstalls by the Seine makes me smile. Notre Dame in the background surveying the goings on about Paris.
A postcard falls out of a notebook. There’s the restaurant where I ate clams in linguini, and the bar where he, and they, sized us up and paired themselves up with this week’s crop of tourists. We all had long hair, sundresses and across-the-chest bags. Our bags were filled with cameras, phones, and trinkets we bought along the way. In this town, the trinkets were usually small bottles of limoncello. In my case, a postcard purchased but never sent that became a forgotten bookmark marking a place in a forgotten book. Just in case I came back.
The limoncello was from local groves of large, gnarly lemons that were peeled, pulverized, and revered. The rind is what gives limoncello its pucker. Restaurants give you a shot of it after your meal. You’ve paid but not left. The limoncello is their version of handing you “a coffee and a coat.” Please, please accept our liqueur as our thanks for coming. Translation: Our thanks for leaving.
But on this night, swarmed by local boys, the prosecco ended the evening. This is their way of saying, “Stay, please sit and sip slowly until we’ve decided, divided, and lured you to quiet corners.”
And so we went. My travel companion with one boy down the beach, and me with another, walking slower to let distance stretch between us. And that it did do. Soon, I was kissing this someone I just met and wondering why I don’t feel at all how I look, rubbing against someone like we’re two sticks hoping for a spark.
My mind started to drift back to those gnarly lemons. I didn’t take enough photos of them. I didn’t get that one shot, the one that, as I push the button, I know I’ve got it. At this point, he’s mumbling against my neck, telling me I’m bella this and bella that and that I should return to his little Italian town to stay with him when my travels are complete. I gave him an encouraging squeeze because that is what this moment calls for, pretending that I like where this is going, but it’s really just a way of deescalating a situation and buying time so I can find my friend and return to the hotel to sift through photos.
That’s the fantasy at this early hour of the morning. Yet if I were doing that instead of this, I’d be wishing I were doing this. Finding love, or something like it, on the Italian Mediterranean. This lip dance on the beach is what I was told to want from some book or song or cafeteria table. Yet here I am at the apex of what I thought a successful evening should be for someone my age traveling through Italy, and all I want is that lemon photo I couldn’t capture.
And now, I sit at my kitchen island, years and miles from that night, taking photos of lemons from the market. I will zest these lemons, squeeze out their juice, add sugar, butter and eggs to make lemon curd. And this is when I realize that the yellow I craved, that gorgeous bright aureolin yellow of lemon meringue, wasn’t so much from the lemons. It was from the egg yolk. All this time I thought I’d get what I needed from an exotic lemon, but in reality what I needed was a simple egg.
The next morning we checked out of our hotel and hopped on a bus that would take us far far away from this stretch of the Italian coast. I spotted him outside a grocery store. He had told me he owned a market. He was inspecting a load of lemons on the back of a small faded blue pickup truck. Back to business.
I sat back in my seat. There it was, the shot of the yellow lemons on the back of a blue truck, but I couldn’t stop the bus so the shot was left floating for a moment in the sky before evaporating forever.
A few years later, traveling with other friends, I ended up back in this town. I never expected to see him. Why would I? But on my way up a narrow staircase of that same beach restaurant, he was walking down the stairs.
You think it’s nothing. Then you question fate.
I could tell he didn’t recognize me. Perhaps there was a faint recollection of events. I suspected at this point that I was merely one in a long line of long haired girls that he took for evening strolls along the beach. He was cordial, as most Italian men are in this tourist town. He immediately asked where I was staying, for how long, and if I was on my own. Back to business. It was clear that he didn’t remember me, but that wasn’t so important to him. But I was just passing through, or doubling back. Even I wasn’t sure.
What do you do when you run into someone like that? In a way, you want to honor the coincidence, investigate further, probe. “Here we are. Is there something you need to know, ask or tell me?” And the biggest question of all: Did he see me as the perfect shot he didn’t take?
New note cards in the shop, inspired by this particular memory… and a hankerin’ for tarte au citron.
With the recent passing of Karl Lagerfeld, the creative head honcho behind Chanel, I found myself binge watching documentaries about him on YouTube. At first, I was going to list a bunch of poignant quotes like I did when our beloved Anthony Bourdain passed. But unlike Bourdain, Lagerfeld wasn’t as eloquent in his delivery, and a lot of the things he said were rude.
However, I can name ten people on my right hand that say rude things just like Lagerfeld, but unlike Lagerfeld, they sit around and do jack all day. Lagerfeld was one accomplished dude. So instead, I focused on what we could learn creatively from this guy, rather than quote him.
1. His failures were guide posts. His mother told him he had no real talent for playing piano and suggested he take up drawing. It was quieter. Just watching him sketch has already made me a better sketcher. Thank goodness he wasn’t much of a piano player.
2. His bookshelf was horizontal.
At first I was horrified, but then saw the genius of it. It’s easier to read the spines. Duh. And each shelf isn’t high, so he doesn’t have more than a small handful of books to lift to get a book from the bottom of a pile. Plus he uses a few books as little separators between piles. Why oh why have I not thought of this?
3. He employed Time Condensing Tools. The books are a clue. They are the seeds of his output. With a collection like this, you know this guy spent a lot of time lounging in bed and flipping pages. That is a lot of inspiration from around the world delivered into your hands without having to travel to get it. And with 10 collections a year to create, he had to condense time. It makes an argument for splurging at the museum gift shop.
4. His motivation was an inner motivation, not an outer motivation. He said some nasty things about weight and women. No doubt. When he himself gained, he said that his inspiration for wanting to take off a few pounds was fashion. He loved fashion and wanted to look a certain way in his favourite clothes. That’s all. That’s enough. He wasn’t motivated to shed pounds because of the judgemental gaze of The Other (unlike so many of us, myself included). This made me feel better about the whole subject.
5. Don’t focus so much on the end of something. People, places and things fall out of fashion or they die or change. That’s life… *shoulder shrug* Now that my cancer treatments are complete, I have been living in fear that it will return. Somehow Karl’s big shoulder shrug about things we can’t control helps me relax… a bit. I still feel like I’m being chased by death and must do everything all at once, but I suppose we are all chased by death. I just have medical documents as evidence.
“One day it will be over and I don’t care. As my mother used to say, ‘There is one God for everybody and all the religions are shops”. Karl Lagerfeld
The March Paris Letter of ol’ Karl is in my shop. I’ve also started taking commissions. I have said no to this in the past, but recently, I’ve had a handful of invitations to make original art for people. And I suppose after 99 Paris Letters, I know what I’m doing. If you’re interested in a one of a kind piece of art, let me know over in the shop.
PS Paris Letters ebook is still cheap as chips this month. Around $2.51 USD. Now is a good time to indulge in a good bit of Paris.
These long winter days have me dreaming up note card designs. This week I’m full of wanderlust, fantasizing about warm summer days in far off locales, hence the new airmail note cards. Now listed in the shop.
They were inspired by a few airmail envelopes I came across recently while going through a few boxes of old papers for my collages.
Rifling through these boxes feels like scrounging for loot. Many fun papers.
A closer look at that gorgeous PAR AVION logo.
Another great logo…
And chevron usage…
The note cards I designed include blue non-airmail envelopes. Dommage. The postal lady gave me a stern look with a grade-school teacher pointed finger. No sending letters with airmail envelopes if they are not required to be sent via air. I received this lecture in French AND English in two different countries so it was VERY CLEAR that I wasn’t to use envelopes PAR AVION or for AIR MAIL. Neither are you. Tsk tsk.
Oh hey, thanks for the lecture post office lady.
Originally I was going with a white background, but because of the envelope situation, I had to choose a blue envelope instead of an airmail envelope, which meant a creamy background look best…
I love when an idea comes together.
Blue envelope, cream background, red and blue border, friendly messages. So fun. A nice way to say Hello. Or said another way…
This February Letter is all about those ornate signs swaying in the breeze above our heads in Paris. Why oh why doesn’t the rest of the world make pretty ornate signs? Why oh why must we Helvetica everything?
Musée Carnavalet in Paris is dedicated to the history of the city and has a room dedicated to these old signs.
Many of these great signs have disappeared. Weather and time taking its toll, but there are still a few hanging about.
The covered passages in Paris is a good place to start looking. Signs are protected from weather.
Signs are everywhere, and pretty as a collection.
Outdoor covered walkways are also a nice place to find signs protected from weather…
But some signs are still out in the open, enticing passersby such as myself…
Was every there a more lovely word? Non.
French words are always nice when they are painted with flare.
Shoes or shoe repair. I can’t recall… or maybe a café for witches.
I like the subtle M.Back when they sold horse meat. They don’t sell horse meat anymore, but only because it’s not popular. The French have no qualms about eating all the things.Definitely a coffee shop. You know F. Scott Fitzgerald came up with the idea for including a sign like this in the Great Gatsby after walking the streets of Paris and coming across spectacles such as these. Kinda creepy.
Of course, these signs are everywhere and nowhere. The moment you decide to look for them, you can’t find them or remember where they were when you first saw them. As I peruse my 40,000 photo library, I only found a few, but there are soooo many more and better ones. This calls for more urban hikes all over this great big Paris. Lacing up.
I’ve been sorting through piles of papers. Not as much joy as one expects after watching Marie Kondo’s Netflix series. Paper piles can be such jerks. They require time and energy to sort through, and if you don’t sort and discard correctly, you run the risk of identity theft or losing that all important tax form. This week I was in search of said tax form.
I found many tax papers one must retain for years, but didn’t find the ONE tax form I was looking for, obvs. I also found a few old books that had aged so very gracefully. I love the look of yellowing paper. The binding was coming apart on many and the papers were attached with dust and a prayer, but I loved them all the same and greeted them like they were old friends.
The colour of Paris is the same colour as faded books.
Then I took a few sketches, slipped some old book paper behind them and voila!
The faded papers become a soft pastel paint for my sketches. And with Paris being such a literary city, it seems fitting that words hover in the air on the art.
So many great lines from those old books. So very quotable. Here is one of the quotes in the Montmartre collage above.
“Memory is a notoriously biased and sentimental editor, selecting what it wants to keep and invariably making a few cosmetic changes to past events. With rose-coloured hindsight, the good times become magical; the bad times fade and eventually disappear, leaving only a seductive blur of sunlit days and the laughter of friends. Was it really like that? Would it be like that again?” Peter Mayle, Encore Provence
And another great line from John Glassco’s Memoirs of Montparnasse on this Shakespeare & Co collage.
“During our first week in Paris we never left Montparnasse at all, simply moving from one café and restaurant to another. It was then early March and the enclosed stove-heated terrasses were the best places to sit and pretend to work, for work was for us more a pretense than anything else… But it was more fun to play at being a writer. Later I found that a great many other young writers felt and behaved the same way. Indeed Paris is a very difficult place fore anyone to work unless he is dull and serious.”
That John Glassco wrote a slew of good one liners. I added one such line to this boulangerie sketch:
“His regular mistress was a large, fat, wise-looking middle-aged Frenchwoman who worked as a pastry cook on the Right Bank. She had no interest in art and did not seem particularly fond of him, but, as he said, she was easily available and had always a wonderful smell of freshly-baked pie-crust.”
Who wouldn’t want to snuggle up to someone who smelled of pie. Notice the Guest Check I added. For some reason, in sifting through my papers, I came across this gem of a restaurant receipt from a day I don’t remember at all. I hope the French toast was good. I think our chef looks rather French, though I suspect the paper came from a diner in California.
They say good art deserves a frame and bad art needs one. I don’t know if this is true, but I know that framing something tends to complete it somehow so I framed up the collages.
Part of me wants to just make an entire book of these collages; match my sketches with wonderful literary words and gorgeous faded paper. (After completing 98 Paris Letters so far, I have a lot of sketches and Paris-based books.) In the meantime, these three originals are in the shop. I’m adding other original art from my books in the shop as well whenever I find the best frame for the job. Not all frames are created equal. Frame hunting could be a sport.
I watched an interview with James Cameron once when he was asked what happened to the nude drawing of Kate Winslet. He walked over to the file cabinet and pulled it out of a folder. I was horrified. This wonderful art was in a FILE CABINET? It was later auctioned off for $16,000 in 2011, but Titanic came out in 1997. That’s a long time in a file cabinet.
James Cameron was the artist who drew Kate. WHAT?!?
Then I looked at my own files and realized all my art is in file cabinets and binders and PAPER PILES. And as we know, paper piles can be such jerks. So as I sort, I now create, frame and list in my shop. Now THAT is some Marie Kondo-type joy. Happy dance!