We arrived in Toulouse airport exhausted and relieved to finally see the plans of a two month painting retreat unfold. For me a time to surrender to paint this magical area the Lot and Dordonge Valley and reminisce about our year in Provence, 150 km to the east. For Duart, it is creating a new website. It is our fortieth anniversary year. Comfortable with our exploring and research, confident in sharing each others expertise. France has been a love affair since the 1970’s when I opted to stay in Europe for the balance of a school year after a university job contract in Copenhagen. I simply was not ready to go home! I enrolled in The Sorbonne. “Cours de Civilisation”. For the balance of the year I lived in Paris, daily I walked to The Left Bank from my 6 th floor walk up near The Gare de Lyon. An adventure of discovering museums, tiny art shops and brocante markets, it was a magical year that today I wonder did I truly appreciate my freedom to explore Paris unencumbered of adult cares. Life back in Canada was punctuated with trips to Europe every couple of years. France was a favourite destination. Duart and I made a decision to take our children to live for a year when they were old enough. Our opportunity for adventure filled with European culture was realized in 1989. We rented a farm house in Les Alazards in the Vaucluse region of Provence. The school teacher shortly after our arrival invited the girls to attend the one room school in the hamlet not far from our house. Our sojourn in France took on a deepening of family life in this rural wine growing and fruit production region. I painted most every day. Called to aquarelle, my pen and ink drawings became enlivened with the light and colour so revered by artists in southern France. Returning to Canada, we made Salt Spring Island our home. I exhibited my paintings at the Saturday Market in Ganges. My Gallery opened early on in the 1990’s and life became absorbed with daughters sailing and horse riding and the business of art. France still called. In 2006 Lauren, Duart and I decided to walk the Chemin de St Jacques in The Languedoc region. A pilgrimage walk with paths to Santiago de Compostela. We walked a portion with only a light pack, staying in small one star hotels and convents. With camera and note book to record this rich experience resulted in my Pilgrimage collection. A few years later on a return trip from India we made connections via France and again returned to The Languedoc region staying for a month in a small village south of Carcassonne. Curiously it was in this small chateau that we rented that I began my series of India.
……………….our travels in France this Spring…….. This time our retreat is near The Lot and Dordogne. A region filled with small villages, Idyllic with lilting stone structures framed in wild oak, and stones collected from fields over centuries. The distinctive architecture with deeply slopped roofs, flap down on each end ridge and tiled in slate or clay. The thick yellow stone walls belie an earthy tactile feeling. Shutters are soft greens to aqua, rich red, some weathered white. Each hamlet is a Fairytale of church spire to Marie and Ecole, with row homes tight to narrow streets.
A plot of grass, or pot of flowers add to the hedgerow that is all mixed up with thorny bushes, mimosa, wisteria and herbs, whatever grows. Each Fall it’s trimmed to exactness, just as the plantain trees that line the road approach that often surround the town centre. This little area we have chosen to perch ourselves for two months is indeed lost in time. Conveniences are only a few kilometers to Gramat where we shop. Rignac is time warped to years ago. Our cottage snug to sheep with new lambs frolicking, bleating for attention. A cat “Queen of The Orange” takes up residence with us. Our lane extends to a small bridge covering a fast flowing stream and meanders to the next village. The cottage with its two rooms has a deep 6 foot wide fire place. We burn hunks of oak every night to keep off the chill. Huge armoires hold crockery a mish mash of platters and delightful thick porcelain bowls. A tiny gas burner stove, wide flat sink with side drying rack. The table serves us for dining, maps, art supplies and kitchen prep. Already we have made two thick soups of onions, turnips, leeks, carrots and cabbage. Upstairs the large room with exposed heavy blacken beams has a small gable window that welcomes the morning sun. At night mice and pigeons find snug resting spots just above my head. Families probably generational permanently lodged in their safe home between tiled roof and wood lined ceiling. “Queen of the Orange” has taken to resting on my bed or lazily stretching on the high bureau in the sunny spot under the window. Within two weeks we feel at home. Our luggage stowed, clothes strewn, papers, computers, wires and books litter chair and table tops. Our habits are relaxing. My painting has begun with interpretations of this little hamlet. Our laundry drying under a plum tree in full bloom, wisteria buds unfurl perceptibly, daffodils, tulips and grass carpeted with English daisies all emit a fragrance that we breathe deeply. Spring has arrived in the south of France.