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Reading and Thinking

So I received a call from Kate—I haven’t blogged in a while and she wondered if all was well. It is, but it is so nice to know someone notices and inquires.

It’s been really busy. Mostly I’ve been working on planning this trip to France. The trip is for Steve because I have dragged him on so many knitting trips. I felt a duty to take a trip he wanted—Protestant guilt. He knew exactly when he wanted to go and he wanted to go to France. Great. I told him to plan whatever he wanted to do.

Weeks went by. He didn’t plan diddly. The ADD gene in me which always overplans began to twitch. I asked a few questions and got the answer that he’d decide later. Later became LATER, at least in my mind and I just took over. First, it was to the Alps and the Pyrenees to look at and maybe ride some of the Tour de France sections. I thought he’d love it, and he smiled and said okay.

Then I researched. I had great help on that. But what I realized was two sets of mountains was too ambitious unless I wanted to return home exhausted and confused about where I had been. I looked farther afield and discovered Arles. Shades of Van Gogh and wheat fields and cypresses. Steve said yes. I said we’d need to lose the Alps, but might could go to Monte Carlo and drive the Formula I race route in Monaco. Just yes.

Then I did my favorite Google search—just images.Smack in the middle of Arles is a Roman coliseum, the largest left, in great condition, still used for bullfights. Steve saw the picture and said we MUST go there. He loves the Romans.Then I found the Pont du Gard. The tallest aqueduct built by the Romans and it’s still in great shape. You can even canoe down the river and go under it. Big YES! Finally some excitement.

I researched the Pyrenees. Awesome pictures, but where to go? To stay? What else to do? Rick Steve’s has a video, but nothing looked particularly interesting. Actually studying Basque Culture intrigues me, but it just didn’t feel right. (My family has those genes, too. Feeling. Spooky things have occurred. We listen to our feelings seriously.)

I wanted to see the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain; but when I looked at their collection of paintings, well, I don’t really like that contemporary abstract period. Actually, I just don’t understand it. Pre WWI German expressionists are my first love.

So Steve loved Arles; I loved Arles but I wanted to be able to see it and FEEL it by just knocking around some and that takes time. Need to cut some more distance from the trip.

I finally realized that Rick Steve’s guide to France did not even include a real chapter on the Pyrenees. Why? I headed for B&N and bought Lonely Planet’s guide. Nice chapter about biking and hiking and hiking and biking. That’s why. Rick Steve’s demographic doesn’t want to do those things. Neither do I. And it seems that Steve didn’t. Sure he was taking his helmet, shoes, and pedals. He always takes those. But he had not ever looked at renting bikes. Hmmmmmmmm.

Decision time. The only reason to go to the mountains is to see the view or to bike. I didn’t want 4 days of just view. He wasn’t going to bike. Clearly the mountains, like Paris, were for a different trip. I hope he will go there with some bikers later.

YouTube has some 90 min. Rick Steve’s videos about touring. I found one about France and watched. Then I queued it and waited for Steve to come home. So where are we going?

Arles to see the Romans

Carcasonne, the walled city, to visit the Cathars

The Dordogne to see Cro-Magnon’s cave art and some Hundred Year’s War castles and a canoe trip

Oradour- sur-Glane to see a town where Nazies massacred a French village that has been left untouched since WW2.


click pic for preview on Amazon.

If you are thinking “convoluted and weird,” let me tell you how I got to this. A book called The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton. It rocked me. It’s about why we travel, not where or how. It’s a collection of essays, each tied to a place and a famous thinker or artist not necessarily from that place.

The first question he poses is “Does the desire to visit specific places originate from their presence in art [or literature] which we admire?” I spent some time pondering that and realized that almost every place I’ve gone to was to see something in art or history that had moved me in some way. Not necessarily a profound thing—London was Dr. Johnson and then Sherlock Holmes, a fictional hero of mine. But also the Tate, the V&A, and the British History museum. The trips that college students sign up for most readily in the Teacher Fellows program are England, Italy, and Greece. Take a look at the English syllabi from high school and early college courses. Why do I want to go to Estonia? Knitting history.

Ruskin as painted by Millais

My favorite essay in de Botton’s book is not about my beloved Lake Country or Arles and Van Gogh, although those chapters were great. My favorite was about John Ruskin. I knew who he was, but not much more. I knew he had strongly impacted art and design in the mid-19th century, but little more. I knew he was highly controversial and wildly opinionated.

I discovered this:
• He felt beauty was the result of complex factors that affected us both visually and psychologically. He’s right!!! That’s why I cried the first time I saw Chagall’s Fiddler.
• He says we humans naturally want to possess this beauty.
• Many of us use “lower expressions” to do this such as buying souvenirs and postcards. Lord, I just threw away a raft of postcards—but not all of them and my walls are covered in posters.
• He says the only “proper” way to possess this beauty (yes, I will eventually make a point) is to fundamentally understand the factors responsible for it
• Finally—-the only effective way to do that is to describe them through words or drawing. Talent not required.

Talent not required. Almost as exciting a phrase as “free shipping.”

Ruskin: “The art of drawing, which is of more real importance to the human race than that of writing and should be taught to every child just as writing is, has been so neglected and abused that there is not one man in a thousand, even of its professed teachers, who knows its first principles.” (Opinionated? Oh, yeah.)

So he wrote a book, The Elements of Drawing, and in it he said that the point of drawing has nothing to do with drawing well or drawing a pretty picture. It is the act of drawing that teaches us to SEE. To notice rather than to merely look. Heck, you don’t even have to do it with lines and shapes; you can create “word pictures” if that is more comfortable. The point is to be in the moment and to see clearly what it is that moves you.

Well, I almost wet my pants. (Such a sophisticate, I am.) That is exactly why I took an art course at the local community college—to learn to see. I loved it. I made my only B at that school, but I learned hugely. Not how to draw—still can’t—but to see a bit better.

Ruskin, the controversial and very difficult art critic, then did the thing that I admire the most. He went to a local technical college and taught drawing to the working class. He put his money where his mouth was. When was the last time we saw much of that?

So I am going to France to try to see. I’m taking my travel watercolor kit and we will see what comes out of it. I’m also taking some knitting and some reading. I expect to buy some nice paper while there. I will be hoping for inspiration and plan to take some art classes when I return.

The answer to Kate’s question about why I haven’t blogged—-well, I’ve been thinking and reading and wasn’t sure anyone else would understand my excitement.

Steve is returning The Art of Travel to the Charlotte library tomorrow. We highly recommend it. We’ve checked out two more of his books: The Consolations of Philosophy and Religion for Atheists, A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion. De Botton is both a genius and a hoot.  Google him.

More later—


5 Responses

  1. Bilbao and the Guggenheim are amazing… We ( my daughter and I ) loved the permanent displays and the beautiful drives through the country side… although, mostly in Spain. Also, attended a knit camp with Jean Moss and Sasha Kagan a few years ago just outside of La Rochelle… have more info on the area if you are interested… then there is Normandy and the battle fields as well as the area asround Nancy which also has its WWII culture as well as a massive beautiful cathedral… and always… Paris… the fantastic yarn selection at Le Gallerie… Enjoy!

  2. I think you have a good itinerary for your trip, Jane. You can learn a lot about landscape and paint while you’re there. We go to the mountains and I take some pictures of things that inspire me. Farmland, scenic views, even just rocks. I download those pictures here at home and paint them when I get inspired. I know you will let your imagination go wild in France!

  3. Please bring a journal with you so you can share your thoughts when you get home. I want to see what standing in a Roman coliseum does to a person.

  4. I’m just going to say that I am hopelessly envious. Do you need somebody to carry your bags?

  5. Made a special book for my French journal and am taking travel watercolor journal–very experimental. We have to get together after this week is done.

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