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Published: June 10th 2017
Geo: 49.2469, 1.41892
On this chilly Monday morning we sailed to the pretty little village of Les Andelys. Our stop here was mainly to see a massive fortress, impressively built in 1196 in one year's time, by Richard the Lion-Hearted, King of England and Duke of Normandy. Named Chateau Gaillard, the Stronghold, it was approachable on only one side, surrounded by two moats and fortified by five front towers, not only built to protect the King of England, but also to prevent the King of France, Philippe Auguste, from reaching Rouen along the Seine Valley. Several of us climbed to the top, to see the over nine centuries old ruins, to walk and gaze at all the mighty strength that still stands, and to look out over the beautiful Seine River from this high vantage point. I also just wanted a fast walk outdoors in the cold, fresh spring air; sailing on a riverboat is an old-fashioned, sublimely gracious way to travel, but the opportunity of a day's short hike up a small mountain overlooking a lovely village was a very good antidote to extended periods of sitting.
We are racing now to Rouen. Instead of swans and Mallards floating by, outside my windows there are long barges, or other riverboats. We seem to be moving very fast, perhaps as quickly as 5 km/hour. It's a gentle ride, made sweeter by hearing the river water bouncing away from the boat, singing its fluid song. As at home, the trees are still bare, but here the early flowers have bravely blossomed, an unexpected and a happy treat for winter weary, very hungry for color, northern eyes.
During the afternoon as we were sailing away from Les Andelys, an artist came onboard to offer a watercolor painting class to anyone who was interested in learning this art. My drawings and paintings reached their zenith at around age 9 or 10; the vein of my artistic storytelling is in the Grandma Moses style. But of course I went. We were offered three choices, three levels to choose from; I chose to try to copy the most elementary, a bucolic scene of hills, trees and sky, with poppies in the foreground. None of us taking this class was an artist, so it was among comfortable companions that we bungled our way to our finished projects. My sky and tree-covered hills turned out very well I think; layers of pastel colors that pleasingly blend into each other look quite lovely. Several people made kind comments on this part of my painting, confirming my own biased judgement. My fields of poppies are not so well done, although they are striking. But even in creating what turns out to look like a child's painting we can feel good about our attempting a different way of expressing ourselves. And I'm sure Bill will love this gift. (He can be very kind.)
But perhaps, in expanding what happened once when I was only 22, I can consider myself a professional artist. I was living in Harvard Square (a very exciting place to be at that time), and taking evening classes at the Center for Adult Education, one in pottery--learning to use the wheel, and one in life drawing. In drawing live, nude models, I quickly saw that, for a beginner, my gesture sketches were better than average, and drawing attention from others in the class. One man asked to buy one of my charcoal sketches, so, having little money at that time, I gave it to him for a dollar. So if one delineates being a professional from simply being a hobbyist, I've been a professional artist for many years. Voila.
In looking back all those years ago at what I created in pottery class, I found it rather extraordinary that when I was pregnant I made bowls, casseroles, soup pots, all containers, but when it was nearly time to give birth, my creations turned to things with spouts, all pouring out. So art does reflect life, but in ways we might never have thought about or realized at the time. I think this in itself is a very good reason to work on creating something new every day.
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