Friday, October 7, 2011

recent doings and a few thoughts on Fontainebleau

Looking out the window of our room at the MIJE hostel in Paris.

So, first, things I've been doing since being home.

1. Cleaning.

I had composed a massive post to explain the flooding situation while I was in Kyoto, but I never got around to posting it. The short version is: Due to a series of stupid oversights and foolish mistakes by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Missouri River flooded massively this summer. My parents (and many of my friends) were expected to be under 2-4 feet of water; luckily, due to a somewhat dry summer and incomplete information, this did not turn out to be the case.

What did turn out to be the case was that my parents effectively moved out of their house and even out of the basement of the new clinic to avoid the (potential) nightmare of sifting through sludge again. They also pretty well surrounded the new clinic with a wall of sandbags.

The river flow is back down close to normal now, the water has receded from (many) of the fields, I-29 is back open after being under a couple of feet of water for most of the summer, and I got home just in time to help my parents move back in. We spent several Saturday and weekdays afternoons borrowing my grandma's truck to take loads of furniture from Grandma's garage back to the house. The whole process has led to . . . some soul-searching on my part re: my massive quantities of stuff. I've photographsed a ton of stuff and sent boxes and boxes to Goodwill (including around 250 books which have now been distributed to various Iowa school libraries.) Realistically, I probably need to do another run-through to make sure I've sorted out everything I possibly can live without. . . but I guess that can wait.

An example of the sorts of things I've been getting rid of. Top is a duckie whose origin I cannot remember. Bottom is a "bald eagle" that I made from a scrap of wood, whiteout, a ball-point pen, cardboard, and found pigeon feathers at the age of 5. Both are now no longer in my possession.

2. Painting.

I have been kindly invited along on four plein air paint days since coming home, with folks such as Pam Cates, Linda Herman, Pat Cink, and Kat Coy. We've been up to the Calhoun Cemetery, out to the Loess Hills Lavender Farm, at Smalls' Fruit Farm, out by a horse farm near Honey Creek, and on top of Spooner Point. I haven't done much with watercolors for a long time (until Fontainebleau, rather), and I've never really painted landscapes, so overall it's been good for my skills and just fun in general.

Smalls' Fruit Farm, from 9/21. (Incidentally, Mom is paying me to make and freeze her some pies before I go. . . wherever I'm going. . . so I went up to Smalls' again last week to get a bunch of apples.)

Not exactly plein air, but I was still in the painting mood when I came home from the first day at Calhoun, so. . . Mr. Stubbs. Hopefully I will do a better portrait soon.

Yes, I was pretty excited to be able to paint lavender even after I came home from France.

3. Watching movies and reading books.

I've watched fifteen movies since I've been home. Fifteen. By myself, I've watched:
A Good Woman, a retelling of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan set in 1930s Italy (with ScarJo, unfortunately);
Agora, a profoundly depressing but very pretty story about Hypatia, a woman astronomer and philosopher who lived in Alexandria about the time that Christianity took hold in that city;
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (BBC Shakespeare Retold series), which, ugh, still one of my least favorite Shakespearean plays;
Annie Hall, which was amusing but didn't really make me a Woody Allen fan;
Atlantis (the Disney one!), which was cute and pretty;
Atonement, which was pretty and unfortunately largely substance-less, which I blame firmly on the book it was based on;
A Room With a View, which featured an infantile Helena Bonham Carter and Italy and otherwise was rather fluffy;
A Very Long Engagement, starring Audrey Tattou and telling a series of interlocking stories set in France during and directly after World War I -- probably my favorite movie I've seen since coming home;
Breathless, which was a bit of fluff, but I guess film buffs like it, and I liked it more than I expected to;
Casablanca, which was pretty good;
Casanova, which had Heath Ledger and was charming and funny and FULL OF VENICE;
Thor, which was not as a good as I hoped but still pretty decent.

On the large screen, with my mom and other friends -- Crazy Stupid Love, which was okay, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, which I thought did a respectable job of wrapping up the series, The Lion King 3D, which reminded me of how AWESOME the Lion King is/was, and Captain America, which basically proved to me that Chris Evans has other acting modes besides "jerk."

On the book end of things, I finally finished For Whom the Bells Tolls, which I started in June (oops), and started The Scenes of the Street, by Anthony Vidler, which I am now within a MERE FIFTY PAGES OF FINISHING. This was recommended to us during the first few days of Fontainebleau while we were walking around the Marais (the riverfront neighborhood by Notre Dame at the core of Paris -- in other words, a pretty fantasic place) with Mireille Roddier, one of our instructors who also teaches at Michigan. It's a series of essays on the urban development of Paris through the last three centuries, with a particular emphasis on how the ideas of the Enlightenment pushed the ideal of a utopian city (with particularly aggressive repetition of the importance of the architect Ledoux and the Saltworks at Chaux. Oy.) I don't generally do a ton of architectural reading, so it's been a nice change, though I wish I read faster.

4. Writing.

I'm writing a book! Well, yeah, I'm always writing a book. The main difference is that I'm actually aiming at publication for this one; it's a pretty fluffy story and doesn't require much research. So far I have 38,000 words, and I need about 70,000. I've written about 22,000 of those since I've been home, so I think I'm making good progress.

5. Artsy/local/fun stuff.

In the last two months, I've gone (usually with my mom or other company) to the Aronia Berry festival in Sawmill Hollow, Woodbine Apple Fest, the Omaha North Hills Pottery Tour, Radio Golf by August Wilson at the John Beasley Theater in south Omaha, and Pam Cates' opening at the Passageway Gallery in Old Market. I'm trying to take advantage of the area while I'm here, I guess.

6. Various and sundry projects.

The one that I am focusing on right now -- which you will be hearing much more about shortly -- is developing my travel sketches into prints that will go up for sale on Society6. Right now I have eight prints up! Please make a quick detour over that way and check my stuff out. If you have $18-20 to spend on a print, that's great! If you don't, but still like my work, please think about liking it on Facebook, Tweeting it, or liking it on your Firefox Stumbleupon account. Publicity helps.

I've also been sending care packages to friends, walking, cooking, and doing a few other writing things, including getting an entry ready for the James Hearst Poetry competition thingy.

7. Getting stuff organized.

As you may have noticed, I am not yet in grad school! The finances didn't come together in time. I am currently re-applying to TU Delft, still waiting to hear definitively from the Glasgow School of Art (long story), and poking around for jobs. I will admit that getting my future perfectly in line has sort of dropped to a lower priority because I've wanted to take this time to finish my major writing project and a few artistic ones. So.

And -- some thoughts on Fontainebleau. The difficulty with not blogging it as it happened is that I know without a shadow of a doubt that I'm not going to be able to convey most of it to you, the reader. There was just. so. much. that happened while I was there. It's hard to know whether to try and do a big overview, a random series of vignettes, or an actual, in-depth, piece-by-piece recounting. (And then there's the fact that I never really finished blogging about Kyoto. Yikes.)

So. . . here is a preliminary mix of those things.

First, the street leading from the Seine to our hostel, where we stayed for the first few days. IS THAT NOT GORGEOUS.

Lesson number one: Paris in the summertime is dangerous to a young person's composure.

We met in Paris, in the riverfront neighborhood of the Marais, for four and a bit days of touring Paris before adjourning to Fontainebleau to start the real projects. I was in Paris last year for a cumulative five days, and I enjoyed it, but I don't remember being struck down with city lust that time.

I was this time.

Paris in the summertime is deadly. The people -- the street musicians -- the light on the creamy medieval stones -- the Jean Prouvé chairs in the McDonalds -- eating Berthillon ice cream as one camps behind Notre Dame and peacefully stares up at the flying buttresses. It's enough to make anyone lightheaded.

I regretted not going out for nighttime salsa the second night we were there, and for getting sunburned enough to feel ill when we visited the Parc Citroën (oh look! a vignette of a photo below!) I also rather regretted that Paris was in a drought for most of the summer, so a large number of the water features (fountains and the like) had been turned off. Boo hoo.

I was in Europe, primarily in France, between June 29 and August 15. During said time, I was in Paris, Fontainebleau, Paris again (several times), Courances, Normandy, and Barcelona. For the most part, I was in Fontainebleau.

The program was a joint one between architecture/fine arts students and musicians; there were twenty architecture folks (I think), seven composing students, and twenty-three musicians, limited to those who played piano, violin, viola, and cello. We studied primarily in the chateau at Fontainebleau, a former royal residence that's been progressively added onto since medieval times. We (the architecture students) did four one-week projects in teams of varying compositions. The first week we were supposed to design an urban installation/temporary art sculpture to provide unity between the chateau and the city in a group of four. The second week we designed a garden/landscape space to fit into the front court, the Cour des Adieus, Cour d'Honneur, whichever, at the chateau, in partners. The third and fourth week we more or less got to choose our group sizes, so I worked in partnerships both times. The third week was an architectural alteration to the the second courtyard at the chateau, the fourth a performance piece/set design somewhere within a certain relatively small area at the chateau.

Fontainebleau. . . Fontainbleau is a gorgeous town. The first night we were there we ate dinner on the program coordinator's lawn behind her stunning house. I think she probably sneezes money. The first few days of the program, the courtyard that we normally crossed to get to our studio space was blocked by an outdoor production of Madame Butterfly, so we had to walk through part of the tour of the former royal/imperial quarters to get to our workspace.

The whole business was surreal.

The horseshoe staircase in the Cour des Adieus. It doesn't actually go anywhere -- you enter the chateau for the tour on the right.

The chateau closed at 6 every day, so we had to move our operations to a big room at the back of the town hall. This is also (not coincidentally) where we pulled our all-nighters.

We stayed in a dormitory (Fontainebleau is home to a branch of the Ecole des Mines, a tech school, and thus has some student housing) and a hotel, the Carpe d'Or. I was in Crous (is that how it was spelled? don't remember), thedorm. The only source of free internet was, alas, in the student office, a fifteen-minute jaunt away by foot. (This doubtless brought about the serious lack of blogging during the time period, though overall busy-ness had to do with that, as well.) I managed to not take a single picture of my digs while I was there, but rest assured: It was TWICE AS BIG as my apartment in Kyoto. It was approaching Midwestern in scale, even.

In Fontainebleau everything closed at 8. When there were student shindigs, we had to be sure that everything (i.e. snacks and wine) was purchased in our free hour between the end of class and the beginning of the dinner. (We ate every night at a restaurant called the Troubador at 7:30. It was decent food, though there were definitely a couple nights when I ate copious quantities of bread and salad and left without feeling too bad about missing the main course. (Whatever it was, it always came in sauce. Lots of sauce.) Behind the chateau is a canal, dug by one of the Louis-es so he could have nice long royal promenades alongside it.

Lesson number two. I can't pronounce a French r, but rosé is the sort of wine I most consistently find tasty.

The program had planned for us a number of excursions, including to the Opera Garnier, the gardens at Courances, and of course the final expedition to Normandy. We made good use of a bus.

Me on the roof of the Opera Garnier (on which the Phantom of the Opera is based.) Yeah. Also surreal.

Lesson number 3. (The last before I publish this; hopefully I will find time and motivation to write a little bit more about this stuff later.) I can focus on drawing or taking really good photos, but not both.

I admit I got a bit intimidated -- I was surrounded by people with really good cameras and lots of practice, and my $200 Sony Cybershot was just not measuring up. That being said, I was also anxious for this to be the first summer in three that I didn't lose or annihilate a camera (though I did lose a sketchbook at the beginning of the trip -- I was INCREDIBLY ANGRY.)

That decision, to focus on drawing rather than photography, meant that I ended up with a lot of sketches like this, showing the entrance to the Cour Oval (I think that's what it's called) at the back of the chateau at Fontainebleau.

And you know, I was pretty happy with that.

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