Friday, June 23, 2017

Swimming - or Dreaming into Being

I have always held onto seeing beauty, clinging tenaciously, proud to be swinging from that trapeze.

But reality keeps slipping its hands in front of my eyes, insisting on a game of peek-a-boo that I really, truly, am not interested in playing. Go away, little boy and let me be.

I am having a really hard time of finding work in France.

With the over forty odd résumés that I have sent out over the past months, I have not had one request for an interview. And I am not aiming for a new career, but only something simple so that I can know in which direction to point my feet each morning.

It is a different environment, with rules that bend at angles that seem odd to me. Yes, there have been a few close calls but only when I have been personally recommended for a position. And even that has not, ultimately, made enough of a difference. I am over-qualified or I am under-experienced. And I have not been on the official job market for a very long time. 

It goes without saying that if I do not find a way to make my living, well, then, I will have to return to the States where I can easily find something, even if it is not the stuff that dreams are made on. But it had been mine to stay here.

Does it bother you if I admit that my determination is wavering? Like a heat chimera that obscures the true horizon? It does me; scares me too. I find it deeply unsettling to not know which star deserves the aim of my lasso. Or if I have the strength for a throw.

My "housing situation" is in quotation marks for a reason and when a friend asked the other day what I meant when I said that I was living out of a suitcase, I paused before responding, as I was not sure how literal I could be. I decided to go with the truth. "Often, I am moving from place to place and only have a few items in a bag or a suitcase to take along with me."

But yet, there is the generosity of friends. And it has been exceptional, overwhelming. I am not yet Blanche relying on the "kindness of strangers," thankfully and I know it. They make up beds for me in their elegant homes, I eat at their copious tables, drink their wine. During this heat wave, I have paddled and kicked in their pools, with each stroke trying to "forget, forget" or "remember, remember"; I am no longer sure which.

It is the Provence that one travels from far to experience. Extraordinary places filled with fascinating people...and yet at times I feel like a ghost in the machine. "Be present, enjoy what you can," I coax or chide. But that grasp towards beauty is occasionally so weak-handed that I flirt with free-fall, leaving that trapeze to swing on without me on it.

So at times, I pretend.

I catch the bus to Avignon or Nîmes and take myself out to lunch, even though I need to be very careful with my money. Or buy a gift of some small thing. Just to taste a bit of the past, of what it was like before, to inhabit once more that "normal" that it might be again. When I am with my friends, I laugh - and genuinely - to feel that shake in my chest as a promise.

Can I dream my way into being? Perhaps, with a little effort added in. But first I need to be certain of a dream. We all need direction. And structure. A box to put our hopes into.

Tonight is an important New Moon and I have read that it is a time to get very quiet and listen to what our heart is saying. I am quiet; this honesty has made me so. Peek-a-boo, I see you? I may not know where I am going or even what lies beyond these next few days, but I will be brave in this illuminating darkness - or I will try - enough to whisper, "I do."

Thank you with all of my heart for your condolences about the passing of Ben. It meant the world to me. I have reread them all so many times. I will do another post on him, a happy one, as promised. But the bones of what I shared today have been rattling around in my head for weeks and it was time to get them out, let them go. 
With much Love and Gratitude from Provence,

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Ben's passing

My beautiful boy Ben left us yesterday. And I can assure you right away that he passed in true peace.

I saw his decline as soon as I returned to France but it has only been within the past few months that his advanced kidney disease began to have an effect on his daily life. He lost an enormous amount of weight and he lost his bark. He increasingly had difficulties with his hindquarters and needed help on the stairs. But he was in very good hands. Claire has been Ben's vet since he was a tiny pup. She is also one of my dearest friends here in France. She and her partner Franck, who is also an excellent vet, took wonderful care of him. And because of that, he was functioning very well until the end.

I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a lot of time with Ben recently. He was, as always, so full of joy. It was the defining characteristic of his existence and he never discriminated in whom he would shine that light upon. He handled his age with grace and an always perfectly on pitch sense of humor. All of the neighbors knew of his decline and would run inside to get cookies to offer him when they happened upon him during our walks down the street. Ben begged for those petits gâteaux without mercy and everyone would laugh. It was contagious. He was a charmer through and through. And nothing pleased him more than he when he could make someone else happy. It gave him great pride.

However, the day before yesterday, he could not get up. It came out of nowhere and as he snapped as if to bite me when I tried to help him, it became immediately obvious that he was now in great pain. I will not go into all of the details but by the end of the day he had let us all know that he was ready to go. I had been watching for this sign for quite some time and it was very clear. Along with my ex-companion, we made the decision and called Claire.

That evening will remain very dear to me. I made myself comfortable by his side and talked to him for hours. I told him how much I loved him, how much good he had done in the world, that he had taught me about love and the beauty of life, how he had helped so many people. We watched it get dark, the arrival of the first stars and then the brightening of the sky as the moon rose, magnificent.

The next morning he could not lift his head but his eyes were clear. I repeated all that I had said the night before and also spoke of so many wonderful stories from the past. We had been through so much together. I never stopped petting him while I spoke.

After Claire arrived, we settled into place for the final part of his journey. It was time to free him from the pain that he in no way deserved. My ex was behind him with his head on Ben's neck, while I was in front looking into his eyes. Claire gave him an initial sedative to send him off to sleep. While we spoke to him, Ben would not stop licking our hands, just as he had the entire morning long.

Claire could see that he was resisting the sedative. He wanted to make sure that we were ok. She administered the second shot that would eventually still his heart. We kept talking to him and I could not stop repeating, "I love you, Ben." Claire placed her hands on him and we were all so peaceful that Kipling fell asleep nearby. Eventually, Ben did too. And then his heart stopped. For a minute or two, I could feel his spirit hovering. And then he was gone. 

I am so grateful for so many things. 

That his favorite three people in the world were at his side. That he only had two truly difficult days. That we gave him such a wonderful life. That Ben was Ben.

I miss him very much. And I will continue to do so, I know. My tears come in waves.

But today I am trying to focus on the love in my heart for him. For that will always be there and in that way he will live on. Love was his life goal. Let his example inspire me so that it shall also be mine. May I honor him in doing what he did so well. 

I know that he is with the angels now because he was one while here on earth.

I love you, Ben. Thank you for all that you have given me and for having been such a true friend.

I know that so many of you here loved him too, even without knowing him. It is why I wanted to share these photos, taken in the last hours of his life, along with the story of his passing. As he has long been such an important part of my existence, as well as here at Lost in Arles, I hope to do a second post with some of my favorite moments with him on the blog. Ben would not want any of us to suffer, ever. So while I realize that you might share in my grief, there is still so much to celebrate in his life well lived.

With much Love from Provence,

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Aventures des Toiles in Arles

Creative minds have a way of finding each other and responding. It can be a tiny, tiny bit like falling in love. And within Arles - which, despite its international appeal remains a big, small town - those lightning zaps can roll from one person to the next with pinball-like precision. So when the incredibly talented ceramicist Sophie Lassagne spoke to me of the arrival of a new company that she thought that I would appreciate, I listened, then looked to see.

And, knowing me well, she was right. 

Aventures des Toiles is a fashion house founded in 1998 by François Gadrey. Their tagline is "Art à porter" and the concept, which I am crazy about, is simple. For each season, six artworks are chosen to inspire six different lines of clothing. There is a wide variety in the aesthetics presented by each artist and amongst the mediums used. For example in the Summer 2017 collection, "Twenty-One," a sculpture by the young Spanish artist Bruno Ollé, features patina-dusted paint test samples whose symmetry causes tension within the composition, while DangerDiesel by the Parisian-based painter Alione is a commentary on the effects of environmental changes in urban society. These are not trite themes, and yet nor are those developed in the more fanciful lines, such as "Garance", based on a sublime watercolor by Claire de Chavagnac Brugnon, where the stinging red used becomes a web of love throbbing with "emotional memory."

As the works themselves have such substance, so is there ample material to encourage the imaginations of the stylists who then interpret the originals in a range that can reach from literal towards abstraction. And to me, this is where the clothing is at its most interesting as, just like the pinball precision mentioned earlier, the creativity is passed onwards, transformed, until it reaches the woman who wears the final result. The most cutting-edge printing techniques are used to give a true vibrancy to the pieces (something I didn't realize until I actually touched the fabrics themselves) and each article is entirely Made in France. The quality is irreproachable. Aventures des Toiles has found a way to both celebrate art (and oh, how dearly we need that in our current society) and then to use their own spark to bring about something modern, elegant and unique.

Those are catchwords that can also describe the style in Arles. Not just presently, but historically as well. The Arlésiennes have always held great pride in their appearance and the "je ne sais quoi" of their beauty. Think of Bizet's eponymous opera or the words of hometown designer Christian Lacroix who so perfectly describes the spirit of the town as "baroque farouche" (baroque with a wild flair).

And so it is not surprising that the presence of art and artists have been a long-held tradition in Arles - from the sculptors of the Romanesque masterpiece on the facade of the St. Trophime Cathedral to Van Gogh and Gaughin battling over their canvases to Picasso's Zorro-esque slashings inspired by his love of bull-fights in the Arena. And now, there is a new artistic wave arriving as the Fondation LUMA houses exhibitions by superstars such as Annie Leibovitz while countless galleries are sprouting up in anticipation as this 2500 year old city is being willingly transformed into one of the cultural centers of Europe.

It is why that, although the company has boutiques in such metropolitan cities as Paris and Lyon, I am especially eager to see what will happen with their launching in Arles. To celebrate the opening of the boutique in true provençal fashion, Aventures des Toiles is giving a little apéro, a "pot d'accueil" in the early evening of June 16th and during the day on the 17th. I know that I will be there at some point, just to raise a glass, not only to say "bienvenue" but to continue to help spread the word about a company whose founding concept deserves a warm "merci."


Aventures des Toiles
3 rue de la Liberté
13200 Arles
Tél.: +33 (0)9 81 89 17 85
To look at their magazine (which includes interviews with each of the season's artists), please click here.
And to discover the artists featured in previous seasons, please click here. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

There is no planet B

Eyes open, I could not leave the bed for a long time this morning, sheets tossed aside, legs heavy but restless. Hungover from the news of Trump pulling the US out of the Paris Agreement, I just couldn't move because I could not understand. 

"Look, look!" I wanted to scream out into the air. "This is all so precious!" This life, this breath, this earth.

But I didn't. I was silent and sinking. So I switched to automatic pilot, like we all can do at times, and I reached for my iphone. Good morning, Instagram. 

And there, I found my French friends quoting the new president, Emmanuel Macron. 

"Make our planet great again."

"There is no plan B because there is no planet B."

I listened to his speech and cried. 

And then I got out of bed. 

My camera is my witness, my words are my ally. I walked into the sun with both and this is what I am finding found. It is not anything revolutionary. Just some photographs taken by a lost girl on a bright provençal morning and phrases scribbled as the day goes to bed.

 But I share them just in case you are lying down defeated too. Rise up. 

We know the truth. And we can keep fighting to keep it.

 (Look really closely. Can you see the tiny red spider in the crook of the "arm" hanging down?)

 I love you, Mamma Earth. Be patient with us, please. We are young, and at times, still so foolish.

Here is a part of the speech that moved me so deeply. 

For my friends in the States, if you would like, there is a petition to sign in protest: here.

 It is up to us, friends. It is up to us.

With much Love and Gratitude,

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Chardon - my favorite new restaurant in Arles - go now

So my most memorable meal in can't even tell you how long...was at a bar.

Now, before you roll your eyes at my obvious hi-lo, let me explain. 

Last Saturday, I was finally able to make it back to Chardon. A friend had invited me for dinner there at the beginning of March and I was so impressed. The ambiance had been chalheureuse on that end of winter night, the service impeccable (a stickler with me, as with any former waiter), the food clean and bright. But it had been an evening of art openings and the bubbly had been copiously poured, softening my memory around the edges. I needed to return, alone and focused. As fortune would have it, when I arrived - slightly puffy from the noon-day heat and a tad late for my reservation - I was hand-shakingly hungry.

Sarah, the sprite Arlèsienne manager, treated me as if we had known each other for a long time (and indeed, we have been following each other on instagram, oh, these modern times) and upon my pausing over a table in the dining room next to a couple lost in loving gazes, wisely suggested that I take a seat at the bar in the kitchen. Sometimes shy me even more wisely accepted for what followed was exceptionally delicious but also just 

I want to hit pause for a moment, though, and tell you why I was a fan of Chardon from day one. Laura Vidal and Harry Cummins (sommelier and chef respectively, both previously of Frenchie in Paris), along with Julia Mitton (former general director of Experimental Group - aka Cocktail Heaven) formed the Paris Popup a few years back. The idea was to be able to use their knowledge without being tied down to a particular restaurant, allowing them to continue to grow their crafts and have a healthy exchange with their hosts. After Paris, adventures awaited in such far-flung locales as Kyoto, Barcelona, Fez and...Arles. Eh oui, Arles can be charming, non? Bitten by the bug, they decided to give back the opportunity for other burgeoning chefs-in-residence and Chardon was born.

And this means that the Australian couple of Mal Meiers and Kate Christensen from Food & Wine Pop Up are cooking and wining (no, not whining, although I have to say that there was some pretty fantastic banter taking place) in-house until the end of June. While they are young and yes, lovely, their level of talent is off the charts and between them they already have nearly thirty years of experience in the industry. Does this mean that their exuberance has been stifled? Au contraire. 

When I settled onto my stool at the bar, service was in full swing - a ballet of chops, sizzles and a bell ting when the plates were ready to be sent on their way. I asked Sarah what I needed to eat, she decided and suggested a round yet minerally glass of red from the Tenerife that I would have never chosen on my own. After that first wave of activity began to subside, Mal and I fell into an easy conversation, all while his focus never wavered, his hands never paused. 

For his cooking is deceptive. It was fascinating to discover. It looks incredibly simple and yet every element of every ingredient has either a back-story or several steps of preparation. And you would never know anything beyond just that what you are eating is so fantastic that, as I told Mal, "It makes you want to eat as slowly as possible." And while my first dish, a mussels tempura battered in Indian spices served with a citron confit mayonnaise was so happy inducing that I forgot that I was in France and ate it with my fingers, it was the second that truly showed the complexity of the ideas at hand. 

Even though I have lived in Provence for over ten years, I have eaten local taureau or bull, maybe only twice. It is a tough meat to conquer well. But here, after being cured with native Australian pepperberry, it is a tartare with the softness of tuna (no easy feat) and a depth of flavor that I am still wondering about, especially as it was paired with a forest floor of mushrooms, twisted puffs of Camargue rice, a mixture of fermented grains with dots of smoked mayonnaise. Mal very generously explained what had gone into this and the other dishes I saw being created in front of my eyes with nearly all local ingredients, which made being there all the richer an experience. 

He said that he feels that is getting to the point where he is arriving with greater frequency and assurance at really delivering the ideas that are in his head to what is actually presented, then tasted on the plate (it is worth noting that that he is an adept ceramicist as well and the plates used are his own, which provides for a pretty complete aesthetic if you ask me). That is an idea that I struggle with as well in all of my creative efforts but to hear that from him was moving and is really indicative of cooking that isn't just a visual impulse as things can tend to be amidst Chef's Table obsessed foodies. I was only able to speak with Kate for a bit as things slowed down, but it is really clear that this couple is batting for authenticity and discovery, two words that mean quite a lot to me.

So, will you go, please? Trust me when I admit that my photos (taken on the fly during lunch!) do not do this justice. Kate and Mal are there until June 26th. And if you can't make it, then by all means go to meet the home team or the next chefs-in-residence. During my lunch I kept mumbling, mostly to myself, that, "I can't believe that I am having this level of food in Arles." Let alone in such a relaxed but professional environment. Listen, as I have said before, a lot of the food in Arles is either surprisingly bad or pretentious or both. At Chardon, you can have fresh, delicious and adventurous. And that is thanks to the trio behind it. In a town where you can't say that you are "from" Arles unless your family has been there since five generations, they have (and are continuing to do as new projects are on the horizon) simply not listened and with great exuberance have ushered in the new. Clearly, sometimes Michelin-esque stars are soaring rather than resting in a fixed orbit.

37 rue des Arènes, 13200 Arles
Tél. +33 (0)9 72 86 72 04
Instagram: @chardonarles
Hours through June:
Friday to Monday, lunch from 12:30 to 3pm
Thursday to Monday night, dinner from 7:30pm to 11pm
Do reserve ahead...

As always, this post is just me spreading along the word of something that I feel is really, really, really worth knowing about. In no way was it sponsored. On est d'accord? Just to let you know.
Thank you for being here,