Sunday, November 29, 2009

Chez Moi

I am back in Paris. When I arrived at Gare de Lyon, I had it in my mind that the first thing I should do is find out what the problem was with my Metro pass. So I stood in line at the ticket window and explained that there was a problem. They tested the card and said, "No, no, it is fine." And it was. It worked as it always had.

What to make of that? So curious. My sense at the time—on Friday when I was having trouble making it work, was that it was important I go south. I find that it's not unusual to have problems of some magnitude pop up when I'm trying to accomplish something of significance. You know—interference, as if there are forces at play opposing me, or opposing good things in my world, hoping I'll get discouraged and give up.

Certainly, I had a wonderful and meaningful stay in Provence. It was different than any of the other things I've done since arriving in France. First of all, the emotional connection I made was powerful. I fell in love with Janine and her family. It was hard to say goodbye. I feel like the connection we made is deep and potentially lifelong, rich—possibly leading me in a whole new direction.

Being there also gave me the opportunity to interact with a French family. And in that way, taught me a great deal about what goes on, on a daily basis with one French family, anyway. But as valuable as that is, I don't think it's the reason why the negative forces that like to spoil good things when they can got stimulated. I think it was bigger than just learning things. I think it was about establishing important, lasting relationships and perhaps even a professional association.

I played with the idea of my coming back to do a writers workshop somewhere in Provence. Because of Janine's knowledge and connections, it seems like something we might be able to make happen. She makes her living managing properties and the people who come to stay in them. She arranges vacations and organize events, mostly for foreigners who are rich enough to afford luxury. She's set a number of workshops and events in motion, including a set of culinary classes. The only thing that would be different in this configuration for her, would be the element of organizing it around writing.

At first glance, the idea that I might be able to bring a group of writers to the South of France for a week of writing seems little more than a delightful fantasy. But maybe I can. I've taught and produced writing workshops in Mendocino, and I do have experience organizing, promoting and facilitating retreats and week long events. Between us, we have a combination of skills that seem to dovetail nicely—a combination of experience and knowledge that goes together well. As I think about taking the steps to make it work, I see that Janine and I have the resources to pull it together. If we were to approach it in a systematic way, taking each step—we might actually be able to pull it off. What an idea!

I don't know, but certainly in meeting Janine, I have met the route by which I am most likely to return. We even talked about horses. We have connections there as well. There are wild horses in Provence. I didn't see them, but they're there, waiting for another time. And Janine has arranged horseback riding for people in the area.

And the pictures? I took them at the Provence Market in Arles. There was an artist there and he'd created a kind of window display of an old-fashioned studio, of the objects that would clutter an artist's studio. I took the pictures thinking I should study them closely, that they will help me write about Delcaroix and Géricault, even Ary Scheffer, the man who painted Géricault in his death bed and who hosted salons that were attended by Chopin and George Sand.

I've thought about possibly living in Avignon and apparently, my friend Toni as been having similar fantasies, thinking about the possibility of buying an apartment in Avignon, or something along those lines. None of this is clear, of course. It's just dreaming, but the dreams are pleasant and have the feel of something that could take root.

I only have a few days left in Paris. I fly home now in less than two weeks. That's kind of disturbing. I'm feeling less and less ready to leave as the day of departure rolls relentlessly closer. Tomorrow is Monday. On Friday I am taking a day trip to Normandy. I'm not sure whether that's time and money well-spent, but these decisions to travel seem to be pressing in on me in interesting ways.

As far as what else I must do in Paris, like I said, there's a day to be spent in Montmartre. I'm not sure which day that will be. Perhaps next Saturday. I want to have someone paint my portrait and I want to photograph some of the more common sights that I take for granted in my neighborhood. I want to feel the pavement under my feet one last time and think about where each establishment sat in relationship to the others: the paint store, the studios, the cabaret, the guinuette, and, yes, Louise Farrenc's house. These are her streets too.

One of the other things I said I would do, which I have not done, was to go back to Père Lachaise in the rain and weather—so that I feel winter there. I haven't gone to Delacroix's grave, either. And certainly, I must return to Géricault's and leave a rose for him or some other remembrance. These are things I must do and the time is short. Oh yes, and drink the absinthe. We can't forget that.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Picking Olives

Picking olives. Ahh. I had fun. It was a great day. We drove up into the hills to what was once an old farm house, now remodeled into a pleasant country home. Janine and her husband come here every year to harvest the olives and amazingly, they get enough olives to have their own fresh olive oil for the whole of the next year.

They take the olives to one of the many to local olive mills where they are pressed. I felt a little like a kid who just realized that the milk in the carton at the grocery store actually comes from a cow. Things like olive oil seem so distant and exotic on the shelf, and now, all of a sudden, here I was putting my hands into the process that would lead to making it. Really. It felt very healthy to do that. Like we all need to remember where the foods we eat actually come from.

The trees were not that tall. These particular trees, my friends said, are probably about sixty years old. I couldn't reach the very top branches, but I could reach the vast majority of the olives. They were very dense on the tree. Janine and I did one tree together, taking all the olives off. It took the two of us, working diligently, probably about three hours, maybe four. Then we moved on to another tree where Hervé had been working with a ladder and the three of us kept at that tree until it was too dark to see.

According to myth, it was Athena, the goddess of wisdom, who gave the olive tree to humanity. Olives are one of the oldest cultivated plants on the planet—one of man's first accomplishments. I just read cultivated plants have been carbon-dated to about 8000 years ago and have been in the South of France that whole time. In fact, several of the world's best olive oils are produced in this region.

The trees flourish in the local, sun-baked soil. Apparently, the trees can grow to be fifty feet high with a spread of thirty feet, which makes the ones we were harvesting small, but small or not, they were absolutely loaded with olives. The olives start out green and then turn to a tan that ripens into a reddish, purplish black. When they're really ready for the press, they've wrinkled a little, which means there's not much water left in them. There are still a lot more olives on the property left to harvest, but we came home with one big barrel and one metal garbage can—full to the top, almost too heavy to move.

In the middle of the day we stopped for a picnic lunch that included Tapenade, a local mainstay made with olives, anchovies and capers that among many other things, is spread on bread. We sat at an outdoor table on the terrace with a meal of a quinoa salad punctuated with bits of chicken and avocado and onion and I don't remember what else. But like everything I've eaten with my friends, it was excellent—as was the wine and cheese and bread. It was lovely. And the view from where we were, up in the hills overlooking the entire area, was fantastic.

At sunset Hervé & Janine sent me around to the far side of the house to watch the Ventoux turn pink. It was amazing, an unbelievably rich glow of pink light glimmering off the mountain's limestone peak, which looks strikingly white in daylight.

I totally enjoyed myself. I found harvesting olives really satisfying and not that hard, the kind of work that I could sustain. I was happy to keep going. I just read that olive pickers, according to local dialect, cajole the fruit off the branch. Well, I don't know. But I did notice that we all felt the life of the tree and the sense that it was happy to have its fruit picked. And we joked about the life purpose of the olives and how they'd be disappointed to be left behind.

It felt so good to spend a day outside in the country air. It felt healthy and wholesome. The kids were chasing each other around, laughing, playing and squabbling the way kids do. And it didn't rain. In fact, the weather was glorious. The sun was out and there was no wind until late in the afternoon when we had just a bit of breeze. It was a warm late November day, kind of perfect. I didn't even need my jacket.

And it was quiet too—that kind of country quiet that happens when you're a long ways from any town out in the countryside. Very nice. I feel so fortunate to have been able to spend time in this way.

L'Art de Vivre

The art of living. That was the name of the market we visited in Arles. It was in a big, modern conference center outside the walled part of Arles. It was busy and full of local products, all of which can be found in small shops in the different villages of the Provence, so in someway it was like a tour of the entire area via the shops and products. Most of it was too expensive for me to indulge, but some of the pottery and some of the handmade art—one woman's bags and purses, especially—were to die for. So beautiful.

It may help to see a map of the area. If you look closely, you'll see both Avignon and Arles. Avignon is north of Arles and I'm staying in Le Thor, which is too small and insignificant to make the map, but is just to the east of Avignon. The body of water at the south end of the map is the Mediterranean. Arles is at the top of the little area of yellow on the eastern side of the map. Just north and east of Arles, in the little white area is Avignon. The Luberon, as this area is often called, refers to a high plateau and mountains that run through the region.

As we were leaving Arles, we passed by the old Roman amphitheater and the old city wall. We also passed through the pretty little village of Saint Remy, another of the famous tourist villages here.

Once home in Le Thor, Janine and I took a walk, really a hike through the countryside near her house. The area reminds me a bit of the Mendocino Coast in California. Not because the two spots look at all the same—they don't—but the collection of small villages, some more touristed than others and the culture of country living is similar.

Our hike was through kind of scruffy, rugged country. This is olive growing land and reminds me just a little bit of time I spent in Crete years ago. It is Mediterranean in its feel.

The magic behind our walk was the climb up to an 11th century Benedictine monastery that overlooks the plain da Venaissin. It was originally fortified with three walls, three different gates that you had to pass through in order to gain entrance.

It was abandoned in the 14th century and, if I understood the information I found about it, was used by highwaymen and bandits for many years after that. There's a huge underground cistern that the monks dug, so there was always water and it has a commanding view of the country side, a perfect spot for robbers. Makes me think of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid, only French highwayman style.

It was hugely romantic and the view is pretty much 360 degrees—in all directions. We were the only ones there and Janine, with her own sense of drama, did not tell me where we were going until we begin to climb toward it and then, to encourage me to climb, she directed my attention to the old ruin on the hill.... It was in those next ten minutes of strenuous climbing that I understood the appeal and the experience of my 19th century compatriots, finding their way to a distant ruin in the days before convenience and posted signs and tour buses... out in the middle of nowhere, perhaps even unexpectedly stumbling on such a treasure. It was lovely, of course.

After our walk we drove to the nearby village of Velleron to the Farmers Market. It was similar to the market near my apartment in Paris, but also very different. It was spread out over more area, for one thing, and in that sense didn't seem as compact or crowded. It's late November. I imagine the market feels different at different times of year. The local farmers drive their trucks and vans to the market and park behind their tables, which aren't covered, so I don't know what happens when it rains.

I had a glimpse into the way both the sellers and the buyers know one another. Just as Janine knows the people who run the chocolate shop in the area, this is a market she visits weekly. With my oh-so-limited French, I struggled to follow her conversations with the various sellers, recognizing that sometimes they were talking about the "writer" from America who was visiting, and sometimes about whether it was going to rain tomorrow—as we're planning to spend the day harvesting olives. As per usual, I couldn't say much, but here and there I managed to add some small thing.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Visiting in Provence

I'm staying in a little village that's about twenty minutes from Avignon. It's where my friend Janine lives with her family. The weather is quite warm, although it does cool off significantly in the evening. The most interesting architecture in the town is the old city gate, which is crowned with a clock and a wrought iron campanile that's from the 19th century.

I had quite a wild adventure getting to the train this morning. For the first time in all of my time in Paris, my Metro pass stopped working. It appears that somehow it has become demagnitized or something. The attendant could not make it work. I was completely thrown off by it. I was already running late. I'd thought I would get a taxi, but had trouble making that happen... the limits of my ability in French—it was an automated system. So I gave up on the taxi and took the Metro, which wasn't that difficult, except that once my card didn't work, I boarded the wrong Metro... I was rattled, made one mistake after another. Fortunately, in spite of all the mix-up, I made my train and three hours later I arrived in Avignon.

It's a different world from my Paris apartment. Janine (whose British) and her French husband, Hervé, and their two children, Juliette and Loïc live in an old French farmhouse with two cats, Puss Puss and Teddy. Teddy, who's not quite a year old, is always in trouble.

Loïc, who is six, helped me read a simple children's story in French. He's just learning to read and he was sounding the words out and his accent, of course, is French, his pronunciation of the words, crisp and clear. He was helping me say the words, correcting me when I got it wrong, correcting my pronunciation. I'm pretty sure his parents found the whole thing quite comical. Janine said the kids play school a lot, but Juliette, being the older of the two is always the teacher... so now Loïc was getting to play the teacher. It was my favorite of all French lessons and, in fact, I learned a lot from him.

Juliet is nine. She made me several beautiful orgami flowers, very cleverly folded to look like tulips. She had just learned this in school. She also sang The Little Drummer Boy—in English—which she's also learning at school. Janine made a light dinner, a wonderful tasting carrot salad with feta cheese, olives, onion and olive oil. And we ate it with a loaf of excellent country bread. A simple meal, my French Thanksgiving. Absolutely charming; I could not have asked for more. A wonderful day.

And speaking of food, earlier, Janine and I stopped at a chocolate shop—the first such shop I've been in since coming to France. We arrived during the lunch break, when all the shops are closed, so we went around to the back door. The owners of the chocolate shop are friends of Janine's and so they let us in and I got to watch them behind the scenes making chocolate. I also got to try a couple samples...

Tomorrow we're going to Arles, a town about an hour south of here. It's Vincent van Gogh country at the mouth of the Rhone. An old Roman town famous for its bull fighting traditions, its Roman Amphitheatre, and as the home of van Gogh. Apparently Paul Gauguin spent a lot of time in Arles as well, and all the mischief between those men passed here. I don't know the story, but I did read not long before coming to France, that new research suggests that it was Gauguin who cut off van Gogh's ear, not van Gogh.

"… two German art historians, who have spent 10 years reviewing the police investigations, witness accounts and the artists' letters, argue that Gauguin, a fencing ace, most likely sliced off the ear with his sword during a fight, and the two artists agreed to hush up the truth."

Who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Green Fairies & Red Windmills

I only have a couple weeks left before it's time to head home. I'm sad about that. Unfortunately, I've been under the weather now for four or five days, so my adventures out in the big world of Paris have been almost nonexistent, confined to local interactions with shopkeepers and other simple things like going to class. That's why I've blogged so little this last week; there hasn't been much to say. I seem to be coming out of it finally, which is a relief.

I have been writing, though. I've written a paper on Delacroix and his Liberty Leading the People. The sculptor, Auguste Dumont—who cast a work called the Genius of Liberty—is also part of it. He's Louise Farrenc's older brother, Tori's uncle, and the namesake for her doll, Augi Dumont. He's becoming a character the novel, an important link in Louise and Tori's life between music and art. Louise lived in the Louvre as young child—that's fascinating to me. I can see the two children running through the abandoned halls of the Louvre like they were streets.

I've walked all over the Louvre at this point and plan to go back at least once more. Napoleon kicked the tenants out. They'd been living there since the Revolution, when the Louvre was taken from the king and given to the people. Napoleon established a museum in the Louvre (Musée Napoleon, of course), but that's why Gericault could go there and study the masters, which he did for years. The Academy held their Salons there too, in the Grand Hall. So interesting.

Of course I wrote about Géricault and his visits to the stables at Versailles—stables that Napoleon turned into "Imperial" stables. So many scenes in my mind's eye that involve Géricault's life—I'm still trying to figure how all that fits and how much of it will make the page in "real time." I'm also finishing up a paper on the Romantic movement in general and how it emerged in art, music and literature in Paris at the turn of the 19th century—after the fall of Napoleon.

All of this has helped me clarify what I know. The fact is, I've learned a lot, and everything I've learned forwards The Appassionata—mostly in unexpected ways. In other words, it seems to me that I have accomplished what I set out to accomplish. Truly. Obviously there's much more to be done, but I'm no longer doing my research by flashlight. I can see what I'm looking at much better now. Fact is, I feel like planting myself in Berkeley and haunting the university library for awhile, the way I haunted the Bodleian at Oxford back 2004. There's no point in doing it here: I don't read French well enough. Yet. I intend to continue studying French even after I go home.

Coming to Paris seems to have changed many things about my novel—although I think I can use what I've already written. The shift is real and substantial, but I don't think it's going to undo what's done as much as change its centrality. (If that makes any sense.) I've come to several conclusions lately. One of which is, I think the story is going to work somewhat like a braid, with three pieces woven together until, in the end, it's all the same story. That seems to be what's taking shape in my mind. I have a lot of visual images, scenes that I haven't written, but want to. One of the tendrils which will hold the whole together is the street I live adjacent to, Rue des Martyrs.

Clearly Rue des Martyrs is central to my story, as is the neighborhood surrounding it. For one thing, it's an old street and not only were there two artists studios along Rue des Martyrs, (Géricault's and his friend Verney's), but also there was a paint store that sold to the artists and where they tended to hang out. And there was a cabaret, where they probably danced the Can Can back when it was still a partners dance. It's the kind of place Berlioz would have known about.

One thing on my To-Do list for before I go is trying absinthe. I've found a place not too far from here—The Hôtel Royal Fromentin—formerly Le Don Juan Cabaret—and it still has its historic bar. They not only serve absinthe using the whole sugar cube ritual; there's an evening presentation on its history.

There's more in Montmartre to mine too. Especially, Poirier-sans-Pareil, a guinguette (an outdoor restaurant) built in and around a huge old pear tree. A platform was built into the branches of the tree where people sat—a tree house of sorts, and there were two thatched cottages in a garden. All this existed in early 1800s. Its one of the places Hugo went to get his audience for Hernani. It's all gone, changed and finally destroyed in a fire, but I need to see where it was and imagine it—and the slaughter houses nearby with their salmon colored roofs, built at the order of Napoleon.

And les moulins—the windmills. Moulin Rouge is at the foot of Montmartre and not far from here. Moulin Galette is near the old pear tree. So something else I need to see before I go. And I would still like to get my portrait painted in Montmartre too. So. There's a plan for when I return from Provence (where I'm headed now.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Day Tripping in the Loire Valley

Where to begin? Sometimes something unexpected happens, I mean really unexpected. Friday we went to the Loire Valley, about 2+ hours southwest of Paris (southwest of Orléans), and I fell in love with France. I can't quite explain it. I don't even really understand what happened, but something did happen. I felt so at home in the Loire Valley. It seemed so familiar and in a very happy way.

First stop was the small town of Blois where we saw the Royal Château de Blois. Blois was pleasant, but not the bell-ringer. It's been the home to a number of ancient kings, including Francis I (1494–1547) who is France's Renaissance king—credited with building the Louvre. He brought Leonardo to France and, in fact, purchased the Mona Lisa. I didn't realize that Leonardo ended his life here. Château de Blois is older than Francis I—Joan of Arc came to Blois in 1429 to be blessed by the archbishop of Reims. She was on her way to Orléans at the time, and would shortly drive the English out of France. So lots of history.

Staircases were a sign of status in French Châteaux, which is why they're generally not part of the room, but a separate spiraling affair. The one at Blois is famous for its ornate beauty, but also because it's open, serving as both a staircase and a balcony for viewing events in the courtyard.

After Francis I, Henry II (1519-1559) ruled. (Actually, his brother ruled first.) Henry married Catherine de Médici and the two of them were not a happy couple. Henry had a "favorite" as they euphemistically call the king's mistress, the beautiful Diane de Poitiers. Doesn't this already sound like a novel? No, not one I want to write... And it's undoubtedly already written.

No. But Henry gave Diane the most beautiful château I've ever seen. (I've seen so many!) Right out of the fairy tales of my childhood. It's called Château de Chenonceau and stretches across the River Cher. I fell in love with it. That was the unexpected.

I walked around saying, "I could live here," which all my fellow travelers found amusing, but I couldn't help myself—that was how I felt. I was so taken by the place that I delved into its history for a long time upon my return yesterday, learning all the intriguing little bits I could find—and guess what?

Yes. Synchronicity, that's what. After an interesting and tempestuous history... the chateau was purchased by one Claude Dupin around 1720. His wife, Madame Louise Dupin, became the fifth woman to shape the history of the château des dames (they call this château, the "lady's château" because six women were involved in its design: Katherine Briçonnet, Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de Médici, Louise de Lorraine, Madame Dupin and Madame Pelouze. So. Madame Dupin is the woman of interest here.

Follow me closely: Madame Dupin (1706-1799) had a son named Charles Louis Claude Dupin (1716-1780), Lord de Francueil. Charles married twice. His second marriage, late in life, was to a young widow named Marie-Aurore de Saxe (1748-1821). They had son named Maurice Dupin (1778-1808).

Are any of these names ringing a bell? Vaguely, in the back of my head, they were... because Maurice is also the name of Georges Sand's son and Aurore Dupin was her maiden name. Yes. Georges Sand's grandmother married Madame Dupin of Chenonceau's son. Madame Dupin held onto Château de Chenonceau until she died in 1799. Undoubtedly, her daughter-in-law was, at times, a visitor.

In fact Madame Dupin de Francueil (as she was known) was a free-thinker and a follower of Jean Jacques Rousseau and was imprisoned for five months during the Revolution—many of the feminists were. Furthermore, it's possible Madame Dupin de Francueil met Rousseau at Chenonceau. Rousseau was quite dazzled by the older Madame Dupin and was at Chenonceau for an extended period as Madame Dupin's secretary and a as a tutor to her son—Georges Sand's grandfather. (Like that? I do.)

It's a long story, and I won't go into it, but Georges Sand was raised by her grandmother, the original owner of Nohant where Georges Sand (Aurore Dupin) grew up riding horseback aside like a man and being generally wild and free. In fact, Nohant is not that far from Chenonceau, south... perhaps a day's ride. Georges Sand was born in 1804.

Madame Dupin of Chenonceau died in 1799 but when she died, the château stayed in the Dupin family. It was not sold to new owners until 1864. George Sand's grandmother lived until 1821.

Did Georges Sand visit Chenonceau? Well, I don't know. I haven't read enough about Georges Sand's childhood yet, but... it's not that much of a stretch to think she did, especially before her grandmother died. It all depends, really, on the relationship between the two Dupin women. And, regardless, what a wonderful set of connections! (I did not take this picture of Chenonceau.)

One final discovery, of a different ilk, though obviously related. I learned that it's possible to ride through the Loire Valley on horseback, visiting the chateaux and staying in B&Bs. One itinerary in particular has really caught my imagination. It goes from Chenonceau to the Château d'Amboise where Leonardo lived in the court of Frances I and where Henry II and Catherine de Medici hosted young Mary Queen of Scots (Mary Stuart) in their court. Mary (another lifelong favorite of mine) married their son at—you guessed it—Chenonceau.

So. I have a new dream. The horseback tours run May through October... I must confess, I've found a compelling reason to return to this country... so compelling, in fact, it's got me scheming and fantasizing.

One more connection: Mary Shelley wrote a short story about the Loire Valley which I used in The Appassionata. I believe it's set in the time of Francis I, but I'm not sure. It leaves me under the impression, after my own brief journey into the region, that Mary Shelley too, must have traveled there. She was in France several times in her life and her description of the countryside in the story, overhanging the Loire River, seems suddenly very rich and real to me.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Elles at Centre Pompidou

My Art History class was at Centre Pompidou this week. Among other things, there's a new permanent exhibit there dedicated to women artists. One of the many women with work on display is Frida Kahlo. Very cool seeing one of her works in person. It's small, but extremely interesting—paint on canvas behind paint on glass.

Centre Pompidou sees the exhibit as controversial: "It's a risk," they say. "Excluding men and showing only women is a revolutionary gesture of affirmative action. But the museum is avant-garde. It's part of the Centre Pompidou culture to do things differently. And we like a lot of drama. This is going to be dramatic in a big way."

In fact, the women of France were kept from participating in art for generations, and particularly visual art. They were excluded from the Academy and the Salons and marginalized in a multitude of ways. Those who managed to emerge from beneath the sexism were rare indeed. Louise Vigée-Le Brun (1755-1842), who did the portrait of Marie Antoinette (and earlier, a young Lord Byron), was one of the few. Perhaps she succeeded because her great-uncle had been Charles Le Brun (1619–1690), one of the dominate artists of the 17th century and a favorite of Louis XIV.

Suzanne Valadon, a turn-of-the-century, Montmartre artist was the first woman painter admitted to the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts. Rosa Bonheur, who like her contemporary Georges Sand, wore pants and smoked cigarettes (I wrote about her in a previous blog) was refused admittance a generation earlier.

Valadon was a contemporary of Gertrude Stein and that crowd. She was the daughter of a laundress. (I like to think it was Delacroix's laundress who some say he painted into Liberty Leading the People.) Like the sculptor Camille Claudel, she worked as a model for many of the famous male painters of her day, including Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec. And she had an affair with composer Erik Satie, whose portrait she painted in 1893.

Her The Blue Room (1923) parodies Manet's Olympia, which itself parodies Inge's Large Odalisque and Titian's Venus of Urbino. According to Art Historians, paintings like Venus of Urbino were created for male patrons (who in 1583, didn't have access to magazines, photos or films). One of the young men in my class asked why the Renaissance painters didn't include sexually titillating images for women. (I'm not sure if he's was being a smart mouth or if, at 19, he's really that ignorant about women's history.)

And speaking of women's history—I also visited Notre Dame cathedral with the Art History class that I'm not taking, the one studying the earliest of the early. Notre Dame: Our Lady. I just tried to draw the two square towers of Notre Dame into my sketch of Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People. (They're in the background representing Paris.)

Art Historians think Delacroix might have chosen Notre Dame because Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame had just taken Paris by storm. Hugo wanted to see Notre Dame restored. It had been trashed during the Revolution and Amy pointed out some of the missing fingers and the heads that are replacements. (If the photo looks unfamiliar, it's because its a view from the back of the cathedral.)

Separation of church and state is taken very seriously in France. Historically, religion supported the monarchy and manipulated politics with a heavy hand. Christianity as an institution is a hierarchical, patriarchy that cannot tolerate democracy or any challenge to its earthly authority, which it claims is sanctioned by God. A hard thing to prove, a matter of belief—and which church does God support? Historically this kind of thinking has given rise to such horrors as the Inquisition, which certainly, among other things, persecuted women.

If I'm not careful, I will launch a rant here. Suffice to say I believe its time for the United States to think long and hard about why democracy requires a separation between church and state—lest we find ourselves returning to the medieval mentality that gave rise to the Inquisitions and made possible the burning of women like me for witchcraft.

On a lighter note: This picture was taken a couple weeks ago in the South of France. Toni posted it on her Facebook page. So. A pretty common pose: me trying to to figure out my very complicated camera.