travel

La Maison Verte Travels Part 6

On Day 24, we went to Paris!  We had wanted to catch the 9:46am train, but when we got to the station it was canceled due to the strikes so we had to wait around for an hour to catch the 10:46am one.  Due to all the transit and weather issues, we all decided to stay overnight - I was coming back the next day, Ariel was staying another, and Melanie for yet another!  We arrived around noon, and the weather was cold with occasional bouts of rain.  Melanie and Ariel had to go to a photo processing shop, so we decided to all meet up for drinks at 5pm.  I wanted to just wander around a section of the city I'd read had interesting concept stores and a vegan burger bar, so I went there.  It was nice to walk around a big city again - it made me nostalgic for when I lived in New York City - but the weather was irregular and the store prices were all very high, and the Airbnb I booked had a check-in at 3pm so I basically poked my head into a few shops, ate a very nice vegan burger and fries, and then tried to figure out where I was staying.  I ended up getting a little lost but eventually found the place which while centrally located was itself on a mildly sketchy side street.  While I waited for the hostess to come let me in, a guy who presumably lived in a complex next to her building yelled at me in French and seemed like he wanted to fight but I just answered that I didn't speak French and ignored him.  He kept yelling and I got the sense it was quite nasty, but since I had no real reaction given that I wasn't actually sure what he was saying, he got bored and wandered off to engage a more responsive audience elsewhere.  My hostess then came down and got me, and once in her apartment it was really airy and nice.  I dropped off some of my stuff (I didn't need to schlep my toothbrush around for the evening) and went off to meet the other artists.  Both their boyfriends happened to be able to be there as well, so it was a nice opportunity to get to know each other better.

The following day I decided to visit the Catacombs.  I had been torn as to whether I wanted to commit to doing so, which meant I didn't buy tickets in advance.  I therefore had to pay my penance, which was waiting in line for 2 hours.  It was very interesting, though, once I got inside and after climbing down 130 stairs, walking the 1.2 miles of mine shaft and ossuary, and then climbing back up 83 stairs, I felt like I got a workout in!  I then had lunch at a nearby restaurant, followed by a street crepe, and then I decided that I wanted to see the Eiffel Tower again so I rode the Metro over to it.  The Eurocup 2016 is going on this month, and there were a ton of British and Polish fans milling about on the way to the tower.  And then I saw - the tower itself had a big inflatable soccer ball hung inside to celebrate as well.  After I walked to and from the tower I rode back to the Airbnb, picked up the rest of my stuff, and then went back to Marnay.

The next two days were entirely devoted to working in the studio.

Day 28 was the Fête de la Musique - an annual event celebrating music.  I worked in the studio in the morning, but in the evening we all went over to the fête.  I made popcorn on the cooktop then added some salt and brought this along with a bottle of wine; the popcorn was a huge hit.  I'd previously tried some other dishes, but I now understood the French way of slowly picking at things over the course of several hours so bringing something that stays tasty and is easily sharable yet also not brought by others is the way to go.  Ariel and her father Adrian played the guitar and sang a couple songs, and Erica sang a solo, a CAMAC artist did a poetry reading in Mandarin which was then laboriously translated into French by way of English, and a local resident named Cecil DJed.  Group songs were also sung by a number of the townspeople, and there was a fair amount of dancing.  A little girl gave me some leaves to put in my hair, which I did, and Patricia was so enamored of how it looked on me that she decided we'd all wear the leaves at our reception a few days later.

The next two days were again completely focused on studio work.

Then it was our exhibition day!  It felt like it came so fast; I had been working on the door this whole time and we finally installed it the morning of the exhibition.  It was nice to have it back in its home again.  I spent the day hurrying up and waiting; getting my pieces ready to go but having to wait for the space they were to be installed in to clean up, for instance.  Everyone (particularly Guillon, Patricia, and Kinga) was really kind in helping me set up.   By 4pm, everything was installed and we all went back to gather the special leaves to put in our hair, clean up, and get dressed.  The exhibition opened at 6pm, and Didiot gave a speech.  It went well, and Mathilde even bought five of my greeting cards to frame and hang in her properties!  I will make a separate post with images from the exhibition.

La Maison Verte Travels Part 5

Day 14 was sunny again!  I took a midday walk around the village to appreciate the weather, and as I was walking by a house, Erica (a transplant-turned-local orginally from Mexico) popped out to tell me about her bikes and how we at La Maison Verte should feel free to use them.  I then decided to pretty much invite myself into her garden to see it as the glimpses from the exterior of it were enticing, and then once in her garden her husband Morgan proffered some wine, and lunch... before I knew it, I'd spent the whole afternoon there, and gotten to sample homemade yogurt and rhubarb crumble (as well as veggies and salad) to boot.  Morgan then told me they were going to go wade around in some flooded road puddles later on and that I should come.  To be honest, it didn't sound that appealing but when in France...  I went.  At first we were supposed to walk but then everyone decided to ride bikes.  I am not great at riding bikes; I have one that I can just about get around on if I'm riding mostly flat streets, but it's a cushy bike that's been measured to my body, and I also haven't ridden on it for a few years now.  The bikes that are here are of random heights, hard seats, narrow wheels, and the terrain is variable.  I was not interested in riding a bike.  I thought I'd just bow out gracefully from the puddle-wading, then, but Morgan decided I would ride sidesaddle on the back of his bike instead.  It was hilariously awkward but moderately functional, so I just went with it.  The flooded road had a series of "puddles" that escalated quickly into pools and then frankly effectively turned into a stream.  We had a good time for a bit, but then the skies opened up and started raining hard.  And lightning followed, which freaked everyone out because we were all in water, surrounded by metal bridges.  So we all raced back.  The rain started to turn into hail, then rain, then hail.  It was a crazy but weirdly enjoyable end to the afternoon.

Day 15 was back to poor weather and I stayed inside working on artwork.

Day 16 Mathilde needed to go to Troyes to pick up some materials for the café she's constructing in the town (which will be the sole shop once it opens next year), so she brought us and Patricia along for the ride.  Troyes has a number of medieval churches, a tool museum that Patricia really likes, and is generally a nice small city.  We went to the biggest church, toured the tool museum, wandered about for a little while, and then all headed back.  I wanted to explore it more so I decided to head back soon.  Then I checked the weather forecast.  The only probably nice day was the following day; all the rest of the days in the extended forecast projected a lot of rain.

So on Day 17, I worked in the morning but went in the afternoon back to Troyes just to wander around for myself.  While at the train station, Mathilde was waiting to pick up some people from the other side of the tracks and we chatted across them talking about my visiting Troyes and my future plans for Paris until my train arrived.  I got on, and saw her through the window signalling NO, GET OFF!  I was so confused; I asked people on the train if this went to Troyes, and they said yes, but Mathilde was doing acrobatics on the other side viewable through the windows so I got back off, ran to the end of the train where there was a gap we could yell across, and she yelled, "That's not the train to Paris!" as the train made a noise that indicated it was about to leave.  I yelled back, "I'm going to Troyes!" and ran back to try to get the last door on the train to open.  I was in luck - I think perhaps the conductor saw the drama happening as I got a door open, stepped in, and the train immediately took off.  Since I'd been so cooped up in Marnay, it was nice to get to explore a new city on my own (and pop into some actual shops!).  Unfortunately, the prices on things here are really high.  I kept seeing things for 30 euros that would probably go for around 5-10 dollars in the US.

Day 18 was rainy again, as predicted.  Nonetheless, a British expat-turned-local named Andy had promised me he'd take me to a gorgeous botanical garden/greenhouse in a park in a town about an hour away called Sens, and we decided to go that afternoon.  Melanie joined us.  When we got to the park, there was about a fifteen minute walk inside to get to the greenhouses, and Andy was worried they'd be shut due to the weather (there was already some flooding in the park) but we figured we'd see when we got there.  Along the way, we got to see some white swans, geese, ducks, and then a black swan.  The black swan was such a character.  He knew he was beautiful, and wanted to be appreciated.  Once he saw us, he swam back and forth on a patch of stream like it was a catwalk, and he'd slow down and pirouette when he came to where we were to turn around.  We enjoyed the show for a while, and then tried to leave, but he moved the show up along with us like he didn't want us to go - but still with the overall affectation that he was deigning to display for us.  It was hilarious.  Melanie and I had to use the toilet, though, so we eventually left him and made our way to the WC.  I believe this was my first squatty potty.  I know I've seen them before, but I think I've never had the courage to use one until now.  They're actually quite easy to use, luckily!  Then we went into the greenhouses which were thankfully open.  They were really, really well put together.  There was an outdoor cactus and succulent section, a semi-tropical outdoor garden, an indoor cactus and succulent section, and a winding indoor tropical section.  I'd be happy to have the whole greenhouse transported to my house.  I knew more about all the plants than Andy and Melanie, so I told them trivia and then spotted some Mimosa pudica.  Neither of them had encountered the plant before (which I thought a little odd of Andy since it's a moderately common European houseplant) so they were thrilled to experience its sensitivity.  On the way back, Andy took a detour and showed us two local dolmens (one up close and the other from afar) dating back to the early Neolithic period.  They're like mini-Stonehenges, and it was really interesting to get to see them.  He also drove us past a menhir, which is a monolith from the same era.  This whole afternoon was a pretty much ideal excursion to my taste, so I was pretty satiated with my somewhat more eventful week and returned to the studio feeling much less cooped up.

Day 19 was entirely a studio day.  I sculpted with QCC on the door, which I'd finished preparing a few days earlier after finally getting Leo to fix the bottom of it, getting Kinga to loan me her scrapers, and after spending a long, hot afternoon myself scraping all the old paint off the door.

Day 20 was also committed to artwork.

Day 21 I mostly worked in my studio, but in the evening we took a quick trip over to the neighboring town of Saron-sur-Aube where we'd be participating in the Art & Jardins 2016 festival exhibition and sale.  We got to see some of the sites some other artists would be exhibiting in, and then got to visit the house we were displaying in so we could discuss who wanted what space and how we planned to exhibit.  I brought quite a large stack of my greeting cards with me since I knew I'd be participating in this, so hopefully they sell well!

Day 22 was another studio day.

Day 23 was primarily another studio day, but at 8pm we all went over to Mathilde's house for apéritifs and entrées (the latter of which, in French, means appetizer and not the main course) with many of the core group of friends (Erica, Guillon, Abril, Leo, Kinga, Patricia) and some new faces as well.  It was a lot of fun, and I learned I like prosecco!

La Maison Verte Travels Part 4

Day 9 was supposed to be Paris day, but after we woke up early and drove to Provins to catch the train in, it turned out that the train strikes canceled the train and the next one wouldn't be for three hours.  It was also pouring out.  So Paula canceled her doctor's appointments and I took a nap back at the house.  Paula and Adrian later went to pick up their daughter, Ariel, at the airport and said the weather was awful and there was a truck that went off the road into a ditch.  We later heard the Louvre and several other major institutions closed and were moving storage from basements.  So I went back to working in the studio!  I did get to meet Ariel that afternoon, which was lovely, and then even later that evening our final new resident, Melanie, arrived.  She'd gotten stuck in all of the train strike problems.

Day 10 I just kept trucking in the studio.  It was still raining.  I really can't emphasize the rain enough.  Lots and lots of rain.  It has been reported to be the rainiest May in France in a century.

Day 11 was a Saturday, so we went to the market in Nogent, and they were having a rose exhibition in the upstairs part.  It wasn't quite as wet out but it was enough so that it was about half the size of the previous week's market.  When we got back, I walked through the garden again and proposed my permanent intervention/installation idea to Patricia and Didier (the director of the Jardin Botanique).  They had asked me to consider doing one (or several) permanent alterations - either painting the bell-shaped cement pillars in the garden, doing murals on some exposed, irregularly shaped walls, or something else.  I had been mulling it over for a few days as none of their suggested options felt right for my delicate type of artwork.  I kept gravitating toward this small door surrounded by a wall of ivy - it felt intimate and its size and shape are more to my taste - plus it was made of wood so I could use the QCC on it if I wanted.  I explained that I wanted to sculpt/paint something on this door, and they agreed.  I had imagined awkwardly trying to do it onsite whenever the weather permitted, but Guillon, one of the workers at the garden, suggested he just take it off and bring it over.  That actually sounded like a much better idea!  Once he delivered it, he said Didier wanted Leo to fix the bottom of the door (which had rotten away a bit and was not structurally sound anymore) first.  I also needed to scrape off all the old paint as it was flaking away, so I needed to borrow paint scrapers.  I took a walk to CAMAC and had a great discussion with a creative writer and artist from Germany (though originally Taiwanese).  She had some amazing flipbooks she'd made, and had some really interesting insights into her practice.

Day 12 was brocante (flea market/boot sale) day in a semi-nearby town (it was about a 45 minute drive, I think?).  This day was thankfully not raining, so the brocante was actually on!  I did learn that it was not as big as it was supposed to be because some vendors were still concerned it might rain... but it was huge, nonetheless.  I was frankly unprepared for the scale of the thing; it just kept going on and on and on.  For about ten or twelve city blocks, I'd guess?  Most of the stuff on offer was pretty worn and/or not to my taste, but I did find a ridiculously loud, thin coat that I bought for myself and a very stern woman/cork bottle stopper.  In the evening I tried to hunt down Leo to ask him about the door (and the scrapers) but I couldn't find him.  I left a message with his mother that I was looking for him.

Day 13 it was actually sunny!  I walked around again - out to the storks, to recycle glass bottles from the house, through the garden - and just generally appreciated the better weather.

La Maison Verte Travels Part 3

On Day 4, Kinga stopped by with a heat gun that works very well, so I was able to continue to begin a couple pieces of artwork!  I took another walk through the Jardin Botanique and then worked in my studio until evening.  We had been invited to an annual neighborhood event starting at 7:30pm - the fête des voisins, known in the US as a block party.  Neighbors in the vicinity brought potluck dishes and beverages and we all doused ourselves in mosquito repellent and had a convivial gathering until the streetlights went out at 11pm.  I brought broccoli fritters and wine, but people didn't start eating until at least a half an hour after the start so my fritters cooled and weren't so tasty.  Other people made great food, though!  I also got to know a little bit better the villagers, though I am definitely hampered by my lack of French.  I had thought that most French would understand Spanish, as that's been my experience previously, but at least in this region if they know a second language at all it's a little English.  Which is of course welcome, but I am feeling the language barrier strongly compared to my travels in other countries.

Day 5 was market day in Nogent-sur-Seine, the nearby town with the train station and grocery stores.  Paula and Adrian were nice enough to let me tag along (and to wait for me since I was much slower given the newness of everything).  Market day is like a farmer's market plus a pop-up dollar store; I bought a new cardigan which has already proven to be a great purchase given this unseasonably cold and rainy weather, and I also bought some fresh produce and some desserts from the boulangerie (bakery) nearby.  They also drove me to the grocery store to get a few more staples; I then led four store clerks and a helpful English-speaking customer in a quixotic quest to find me popcorn kernels.  Apparently that's a really strange request; they sell buckets of carmel corn in the front of the store, but people don't make their own!  I personally really prefer very lightly flavored popcorn - just a little salt, usually - and everywhere else I've been that's an easy accommodation but apparently not here!  When I got back from shopping I was pretty exhausted.  I may have still had a little jet lag, plus I didn't get enough sleep the previous night.  Either way, I slept for the next few hours and then puttered around in the studio for the rest of the evening.

Day 6, Sunday, is brocante day in France.  Every Sunday during the summer a different town or two holds a brocante (basically a flea market or boot sale).  A large number of the locals go to these regularly; apparently it's the only way to buy dishes/bikes/easels if you're trying to save money.  I was warned that they're not worthwhile if it's raining, but Adrian and Paula wanted to go despite the weather so I tagged along.  It was enjoyable to see one, but the rain did deter most of the vendors from even attending and those that did quickly covered up (or just packed away) their goods right when we arrived as the rain picked up.  So it was mostly a soggy bust.  When we got back, more studio time!  The rain is annoying for excursions, but great for my studio practice...

Day 7 was Monday, a day when pretty much everything including the Jardin Botanique is closed in France.  It was also still raining.  I took a walk around the village despite the rain as I was feeling cooped up.  After visiting the storks and the town center, I inveigled my way into CAMAC, the other artist residency.  I explored the gallery (and saw an interesting sculpture of an elongated soccer ball which I enjoyed) and the studio of one of the artists, and then as I was heading back out that artist, Augustine, actually spotted me and invited me into his room.  He was leaving the next day (he was a May resident), so I was fortunate to get to see and discuss his artwork with him before he left.  While discussing his work, he asked me what I planned to work on and I brought up 3P Quick Cure Clay.  He was really interested, so I invited him back to my studio then and there since he was leaving the next day.  We acquired another interested artist-turned-temporary-CAMAC-cook, Sasha, and set off for my studio.  I showed QCC to them, and they both marveled at it - in fact, Augustine was super excited and interested in it and wanted some for himself.  I told him to give me his contact details and I'd pass along the website where he could buy it.  Augustine was also particularly enthusiastic about the two works-in-progress I had, which was very heartening.  Particularly since these type of heavy relief pieces are somewhat new to me, I'm not 100% certain of what I'm doing so hearing positive feedback was really nice.  They also gave me some constructive criticism, which I later incorporated into the piece and agree that it was helpful.

Day 8, Tuesday, was still very rainy.  I had breakfast and then spent most of the late morning and early afternoon planning what I wanted to do/see in Paris on Thursday, because Paula had to go into Paris that day for a doctor's appointment and so it would be a cheap and guided way to ease into visiting the city to go with her.  It is supposed to rain on Thursday, so though my first desire is to see the Jardin des Plantes and associated zoo, I decided to stick to more indoorsy activities.  I've already made the rounds of the tourist destinations (the Arc de Triomphe, Sacré-Cœur, the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame, and so on) so I'd like to get a more local taste.  I'm planning on hitting up some local markets and concept stores, and also hope to acquire more socks.  I only brought five pairs, and given the weather and the fact that Europeans eschew dryers, it's a bit of a problem.  After making all my plans, I realized I'd pushed lunch until very late and was starving.  I popped downstairs to urgently make food... and the gas was finished.  No more cooktop for me.  I walked over to the Jardin to ask if they could kindly switch the gas over, but when they came it turned out the other one was also empty and no one had bothered to refill it.  I was not amused, as I was at this point in full-on hangry mode.  Finally it turned out that the electric plate on the cooktop was still functioning, so I used that and satiated myself.  Then Patricia and I consulted on when I could go to the grocery store tomorrow, but it turned out that tomorrow was inconvenient for her so it would be better to go that evening.  So we went out to get more groceries (and stopped at a local hardware store to get spray varnish for me as well; I can never bring it because it's an aerosol) and while out she invited me over to dinner.  She also invited Andy, a British transplant to Marnay, and we had a very enjoyable evening - to the point where we outlasted the streetlights and Andy had to drive me the few blocks home because without the lights it was pitch black outside!

La Maison Verte Travels Part 2

On Day 2, Patricia very kindly took me on a tour of the Jardin Botanique de Marnay in the morning.  For such a small town (Marnay has 247 residents), the garden is surprisingly large - 2 hectares - and contains a wider variety of plants than I would've guessed, as well as a small greenhouse.  It really is quite beautiful.  She also took me on a tour of the village, which is so tiny that it has no shops at all.  A woman drives a van through every day except Wednesday to sell bread - a mobile bakery - but otherwise all shops are to be found in neighboring towns.  The local attractions are the Jardin and CAMAC, which is another artist residency.  It's an older, much more expensive, fancier (i.e. residents have private bathrooms and are provided food) residency; from both a fiscal as well as a focal matter point of view, I'm pleased with La Maison Verte.

That evening was Paula's residency exhibition, despite it being Wednesday and not the final Friday of the month.  (I inquired as to why, and was told the garden's director had another obligation on Friday so it was moved.)  Paula is a Professor Emeritus from the University of Mississippi and does a wide range of work in a variety of media, with figurative gestural work being the main focus though other subjects are also explored.  The event was nicely populated, and I met many of the other people who make up the main group of friends and neighbors involved in La Maison Verte.  Unlike many rural towns, a large portion of the residents here are actually international transplants, which I found really interesting.

On Day 3, I took another trip to the Jardin Botanique and also make a trip down the road to see a stork nest that Paula and Adrian had told me about.  Then it started raining, so I broke for lunch and then started some work.  I'm using 3P Quick Cure Clay on this residency, so I put a a little down and went to cure it... and I killed my heat gun.  Every other electronic I've ever used internationally has worked just fine with a standard adapter, but apparently my heat gun required a voltage converter as well.  Since I didn't use one, I fried it.  I panicked a bit, as I really need a heat gun ASAP in order to progress artistically with what I'd like to do on this residency and am not even sure where to acquire one around here, but after talking with some of the locals, it appears that one of the other people who helps run the residency, Kinga, has two heat guns herself and will lend me one.  And this new one will natively function with the outlets, so I shouldn't have any problems.  Fingers crossed!

La Maison Verte Travels Part 1

The flights over were the smoothest international trip I think I've ever had.  Both left approximately on time and landed approximately on time, my one layover was short but not stressfully so, none of my luggage was lost - it was as enjoyable as long, overnight travel can be.  Figuring out how to get to Marnay via train in Charles de Gaulle airport was a little harder, but I had scheduled myself a couple hours of leeway time to arrange it so I had time to sort it out.  I ended up needing to buy a train ticket into Paris, and switch lines once before taking a separate train out into the provinces.  There were a lot of stairs involved, and with my two fully stuffed bags (the biggest one weighed 49 pounds, and the smaller went unweighed but I'd guess approximately 35-40) I was a bit of a sight.  Luckily that meant that for most of the stairs (though sadly not all) I was helped by very nice strangers because on the few staircases I had to manage on my own I had to take the bags one at a time, one stair at a time!

Waiting for my last train involved sitting in an open-air atrium, and I couldn't help but notice it was quite cold.  Surprisingly cold, given that I've been in the region before - earlier in the year, even - and also had looked up the weather as an added precaution when packing.  I'd decided to only bring two long-sleeved shirts, a light jacket, a light cap, and four pairs of socks to go with a pair of sneakers; the rest of my wardrobe is filled with tank tops, shorts, skirts, and sandals.  Locals have confirmed that it decided to be unseasonably cold, but that that may continue so I might be buying some more cold-weather clothing while here.

One of the people who created and runs the residency, Patricia, was waiting at Nogent-sur-Seine to pick me up.  Nogent is a nearby town (about an hour's walk but a 7 minute drive, apparently) big enough to have a couple grocery stores and the train station.  We stopped to get groceries, and then after getting locked out of the car and having a nice stranger help us get back in, we headed to La Maison Verte in Marnay-sur-Seine.

La Maison Verte lives up to its name, literally - it is painted dark green - and the ground floor has a large studio work space, a living room, the kitchen, and the bathroom.  The second floor contains three bedrooms, one with a desk inside and one with a separate small desk/studio space as an attached-but-separate room.  I was given the bedroom with the attached-but-separate small studio space, which is quite nice.  I am a little saddened that the bathroom is on a separate floor, though!

Typically residencies here run exactly one month, so there are two artists here for the rest of May - a married, retired couple named Adrian and Paula who are actually in the process of moving permanently to Marnay from Oxford, Mississippi.  Their daughter is one of the artists coming in for the June residency period and she's a pescetarian.  

I'm a little odd in that I requested to stay a little longer (five and a half weeks); I did that because the closing exhibition for the residents is on the last friday of each month but since that's June 24th for June 2016 residents, that would only give three weeks to prepare!

I was supposed to go with Patricia to check out Le Jardin Botanique later in the afternoon, but after sitting down I was pretty sure I was done with learning new things until after I slept so I pushed it off until the following morning.  My next request would probably have rendered that visit unaccomplishable anyway - I wanted to turn my heater on since it was very cold in the house.  This request seemed simple, but the radiator didn't want to work.  Patricia called on some colleagues to help figure out how to get it on again, but after turning on the main heat in the house (no luck), learning there was a gas tank responsible, turning that on (no luck), checking on it, learning it was out of fuel, and then telling me that getting fuel was not possible due to strikes, they found a portable electric heater somewhere in the town for me!  That all took around two hours, and after that excitement I fell asleep for the night.

Nau Côclea Residency - Log 10

I spent my final day packing and trying to finish up Darker Side.  I cut it really close - the painting was wet most of the evening but finally around 9:00pm I was able to wrap it up to put in my suitcase.  That last night I woke up a number of times to blow my nose.

The next morning I took the train back into Barcelona and then switched to another train that took me to the airport, where I then had to find the bus to take me to Terminal 1 - the international departures terminal.  Due to the infrequent train schedule and my therefore early start, I thought I was going to have to wait at my gate for about two to three hours, but actually by the time I got through security and customs to my gate it was only about half an hour before boarding (though boarding was over an hour ahead of departure). 

I ended up getting stuck in a middle seat, which is particularly unpleasant on a ten hour flight.  Luckily, the woman next to me started trying to figure out how to sit next to her partner who was two rows back and after they asked some other guy who weirdly preferred his middle seat, I volunteered myself to switch with her partner who luckily was on an aisle.  Then the flight attendant saw me and since I was clearly willing to move, asked if I could move again to bring another family together.  She offered a window seat (no thanks - I like to be able to get up without asking someone else to move) but I countered with aisle and she made it happen.  As the flight started taking off, I realized that the stuffiness last night was because I was, in fact, getting a cold.  Honestly, while I'd have preferred no cold at all, it was better that it happened on a travel day and not during my last few days in Spain.  Getting the aisle seat was super helpful, though, as I made at least ten different visits to the bathroom for tissues.

That flight also had some of the most abundant food services I've ever encountered.  They had more than twice the amount of services that the initial flight had - we had a full pasta meal, then later they offered ice cream, then they offered pretzels, and then they brought another slightly smaller meal around.  This was all quite nice since the rest of my travel was uneventfully but tightly sequenced such that as soon as I landed in Charlotte and found my next gate I had less than ten minutes before boarding it so I wouldn't have had time to get more food if I had wanted any.

Finally I arrived in Kansas City, and though my bags were really slow to come out on the carousel, they appeared eventually and my wonderful colleague Susan was waiting to take me home.  It is so nice to have a trustworthy, friendly face to welcome you back after some time away.

Nau Côclea Residency - Log 9

The next day I went into Figueres, the birthplace of Salvador Dalí, to check out the Dalí Museum and the Sant Ferran Castle.  The town itself was a little smaller than Girona but was quite nice.  After wandering around and eating lunch, I ascertained when my tickets could be picked up and found I had a couple hours, so I walked up to the castle.  It was a very long and mildly perplexing walk, as various signs to the castle pointed in completely different directions and the roads were very unpopulated.  I split the difference in the signs and it turned out well for me.  The "castle" is really an old fortress.  It was pretty interesting to walk around, but my feet started to disagree with me.  I persevered, though, and then went back down to the Dalí Museum.  There's an associated Dalí Jewelry that I actually went to first; it was really interesting to see his sketches turned into precious metals and stones as some pieces transcended the drawings while others were lackluster in comparison.  I thought it was interesting that he aspired to create great value apart from the intrinsic value of the materials and viewed making jewelry as another media within his studio practice.

Then I went into the Dalí Museum.  It was a really good museum - just the right size where you're able to spend several hours there but you leave having seen everything and feeling accomplished.  I didn't know that he was so interested in stereoscopic imagery and other optical tricks until coming here.

After the museum I made my way back home.  I'm not sure my feet have ever been that sore before (and the rest of me was fine!); I had worn a different pair of shoes that day and think that may have been part of the problem.  So the following day was a studio and foot recuperation day.

Then I went back to Figueres as I wanted to look around the downtown area more - I had planned to do it after the Dalí Museum, but due to my sore feet that day I didn't.  Plus the town is really fairly close by train from Camallera so it didn't burn too much time doing so.  While I was wandering around I saw they were constructing something in the center plaza (la rambla).  I asked what was happening and they said there was going to be a beach installed there the next day as a Saturday event.  I asked two or three more times as I thought I must not have heard right.  Why install a beach in the rambla when there are beaches everywhere by the sea in each town including Figueres?  When I went back to Camallera that afternoon I asked Clara what this was all about and she had no idea but we looked it up and sure enough, it was a small festival.  I decided to go back to see it and painted the rest of the day.

The "beach" ended up being two small piles of sand and then a lot of little tent shops selling mostly stuff that I wasn't interested in - books in Catalan, baby bibs, leather goods, seafood paella, and so on.  I don't mind checking things like this out though because if you don't go then you always wonder what it would have been like.

I painted again that evening and the following day.

Nau Côclea Residency - Log 8

I made a quick evening visit to the French-Spanish border town of Portbou on Friday.  Clara said I'd want to see the architecture and that it's a kind of uncomfortable/creepy place - not touristic at all, though.  When I got there, it honestly didn't seem that different than other small Catalonian towns (and did seem to have a bit of tourist industry going) although there was more decay evident.

Then the next day I went back to Barcelona to do the other half of the tourist bus route.  I primarily wanted to see La Sagrada Familia and Park Guell, but also wanted to check out the Glories district.  After eating a really nice lunch of sangria, gazpacho, and coca (a sort of focaccia/pizza) with a green tea cheesecake for dessert (though I have to say, cheesecake in Spain is pretty much uniformly disappointing - the texture is not smooth and creamy but rather kind of fragmented and crumbly), I headed for La Sagrada Familia.  When I got there, it turned out tickets weren't available to be sold until two hours later and at that point you'd still have to wait in a long line, so it would probably be at least three hours just to get in.  So I only got to see the outside, which was nice but also partially covered in construction.  Then I went to Park Guell, which requires quite a hike from the bus stop.  Once I reached it, I found out that it, too, had over a two hour wait to even be able to then wait in line to buy a ticket.  I could walk the circumference of the park for free, which I did, but there wasn't much to see as they'd purposefully gated off the actual park to start charging entry a few years ago. 

I was irritated, to tell the truth; I felt the whole situation was pretty opaque and tourist-gouging (you could buy a much more expensive "cut-the-line" guided tour).  This type of multiple-level entry delay doesn't typically happen (as opposed to just a line, like at the Eiffel Tower or the Sistine Chapel) and wasn't something I was made aware of in conversation or online prior to experiencing it in Barcelona.  As a result of both its frustratingly sprawling nature and the waste of my time trying to see these sights, I have to say that despite the hype Barcelona is definitely not one of my preferred cities in Spain, much less in all of Europe or my overall global travels.  Within Catalonia, I prefer Girona.

On Sunday I was invited to Clara's sister's neighboring house to have lunch with a group of about eight people.  First we dunked ourselves in the outdoor bath to cool off (the days here are regularly around 90-95*F) and then had a bit of vermouth and tapas followed by gazpacho, salad, and paella, followed by a fruit tart, chocolate, coffee, and limoncello.  It was a really nice, drawn-out meal with lively conversation.

Then the following day, Clara wanted me to go back to Barcelona with her, first stopping at Granollers Centre to see an artist residency/studio center there and then continuing on to Hangar, another arts center in Barcelona.  I met some really cool people at the Granollers Centre, and then Clara and Lourdes, an artist friend of Clara's, and I all headed off in Lourdes' car to Barcelona.  We had a light lunch and then made our way to Hangar, where Clara was to be interviewed by one of the artists there while Lourdes and I hung out.  We had the option to leave and explore, but for the first two hours, we just sat and conversed, as it was very hot outside and we were tired from all the earlier activity, plus our conversation was surprisingly intense and interesting, given that my Spanish is not the best and Lourdes doesn't speak English.  But after two hours, we decided to leave and get some gelato.  Apparently just as soon as we finally left Clara's interview was done, but Lourdes' phone was on silent and I just didn't hear mine (it gets really bad reception here, so I'm not sure it even made any noise).  Lourdes noticed that Clara had called, though, so we headed back with gelato in hand.  Clara and I were supposed to take the train back to her car, but since we were a bit later than intended due to the phone/gelato confusion, Lourdes decided to drive us back to her car.  Both on the way to Barcelona but particularly on the way back out, they kept getting us lost with competing and often wrong ideas about where to go (Clara seemed more right than wrong, though).  I kept offering my GPS up, but they seemed to enjoy the heated discourse and resulting forays into weird dead-ends.  They both said a GPS wasn't necessary, but I'd guess that we spent at least 40 minutes that day on being lost.  I think it's a cultural disparity, as they really thought it was odd that I kept suggesting it...

The next day Clara and I went to a bird sanctuary in the early evening - we got to see some cranes and ducks from afar as well as some really cool jumping fish, but not much wildlife up close - and then to her friends' hotel in L'Escala for a really tasty dinner of mussels (I explained to them earlier that I do eat bivalves since in the ways that matter to me - cognition and pain reception - scientists believe they are no different than plants).  Elena, one of the pair running the hotel, also showed me her artist studio.  I really liked her artwork; it was also inspired by nature but in a much more abstract, sculptural way.

Nau Côclea Residency - Log 6

On Saturday I went to Barcelona for the first time.  (Well, the first time was when I flew in, but I didn't see anything other than the train station, so I don't think that counts.)

The train ride is long: it's about two hours away.  Add to that the twenty minute walk and I got there around midday.  I decided to take one of the tourist buses as Barcelona is a sprawlingly large city and many reviews have noted that these tourist buses are actually decent methods of traversing it.  There are two different routes the buses take - I plan to go back another day to take the other route, but I started with the route that went by the Olympic arena because right nearby is the Barcelona Botanic Garden.  I stopped there first; the garden was worth the cost (1.9 euro) but was all open air/open climate so it wasn't as interesting as gardens that are able to create greenhouses with appropriate microclimates.  On the rest of that route, I saw the Arc de Triomf, the Passeig de Colom, the Poble Espanyol, Gaudi's La Pedrera/Casa Milà, and Gaudi's Casa Batlló.  I also stopped to get lunch in Plaza España and then walked up La Rambla back to the Passeig de Gracia where I caught the last train back home.

I painted the next day and most of the following day, with a break to go to the beach.  We went to a very pretty little beach about a fifteen minute drive away from Camallera near L'Escala.  I swam a little, but I don't like saltwater in my eyes and mouth so I mostly floated around, sat on the beach, investigated crabs in rocks with a small child with a stick (he didn't hurt them, just excavated them from their hidey-holes) and just enjoyed the Mediterranean atmosphere.

Then on Tuesday, the day of the summer solstice, I went back to Girona, as I wanted to make sure I felt like I had fully explored the town and I hadn't seen the cathedral, Arabic baths, or old monastery yet.  It rained a fair amount, though, so a good bit of time was spent sheltering in odd shops.  I had a funny conversation with one of the shopkeepers.  About half the people I meet in Spain compliment me effusively on my Spanish, and the other half clearly think I'm awful at it.  My skill entirely depends on the situational context - what I need to talk about, what else is going on, whether I'm stressed for time, etc. - but I'm aware that even at my best I am merely functional in the language.  I can only discuss superficial ideas and speak simply, but I do get by and I have a decent accent.  Anyway, I was talking with this shopkeeper about the weather, and the holiday, and my residency, and so on, and she complimented my Spanish.  I said it was a little ugly but functional, which is typically how I reply.  Her response to me, however, I found really funny: "What's really important is that you understand me, and this you clearly do quite well."  

The holiday we were discussing was the Saint John festival in honor of the solstice and we had a party to celebrate it that evening in my studio space.  A number of people came over, several of whom I had met previously (a Scottish immigrant artist named Amelia; Clara's sister; Jordi, the musician using the smaller studio attached to my house; Clara's boyfriend; and then a fair number of new people.  Amelia and a couple other guests played some lovely, old music that I half recognized on the violin and guitar and a potluck supper and drinks were available all night long.  Amelia had brought a young artist friend of hers along who's in his early twenties and just starting to figure out his skill set and artistic path.  Just as the fireworks came out and were starting to be set off, he asked me if I'd sit for a portrait.  I kind of wanted to watch the fireworks, but I acceded and let him draw me.  He kept bursting into laughter while drawing, which didn't seem like the best sign, but I think he was just insecure about what he was doing and the drawing was also veering into an overly solemn expression.  He said that he would really like to learn accurate illustration skills but that despite seeking them out, there weren't any well-taught courses on it.  After some time he finished and showed it to me - I thought he had a good hand but my face was a little vertically stretched.  Then I thought we were done, but he asked if I would draw a portrait of him.  This was quite clever of him, as I felt obligated since he'd done mine, so I did one in his sketchbook for him.  Clara told me I'm a "good drawer" and I garnered other praise from attendees, so that was nice.  The party as a whole was a really good time that felt very medieval what with the music and the summer solstice celebration and the general ambiance.

Nau Côclea Residency - Log 5

Saturday was one of those days of small amounts of repeated bad luck.  First, as I was packing myself up to head out for Girona again to take in the art festival, I realized that I had no idea where my non-prescription sunglasses were.  Obviously not as bad as losing the very costly prescription ones, but still.  I liked those sunglasses!  I resolved to buy some new ones in Girona.  Then I set off for the train.  As I waited at the stop for what felt like too long... it was too long.  I had accidentally loaded a train schedule for the wrong day and weekend trains are more infrequent, so I had slightly over an hour to wait for the next train.  The walk to or from Nau Côclea is about twenty minutes, so burning forty minutes just walking back and forth didn't make any sense.  I decided to see if I could find sunglasses in Camallera.  I did (though they were quite overpriced) and also bought a clementine and some water to help with the wait.

Once I got to Girona, I walked as quickly as possible to the arts festival, but I arrived just before 2pm due to the mistake in train timing.  I had been told to aim to arrive more at 1pm as at 2pm everyone goes off to eat lunch for a couple hours.  I did get to briefly say hello to the  director of the Bòlit. Centre and she introduced me to a few of the artists.  Due in part to my timing but I think mostly due to the newness of the festival, it was pretty underwhelming. There were four artists painting large murals, which were really cool, but apart from that there were just a few scattered stands selling relatively expensive jewelry and art.

I ended up staying at the festival for a pretty short amount of time and then just started to walk around and explore Girona again.  I stopped for lunch (paella vegetal) and then saw that I had just enough time if I hurried to catch a train back.  So I hurried... and got to the train station literally thirty seconds too late.  And again, on the weekends the schedule is more infrequent and I'd have to wait two hours for the next train.  The train station is moderately far from the heart of the city, so I grumpily started walking back into the city and bought a few groceries before catching the next train.  Some dude tried to gently take my backpack from me (not to steal, I don't think - at least not immediately - but to test my boundaries and if he had succeeded to make it harder for me to want to walk away) and other weird behaviors in the train station again, but I managed to distance myself without issue.  These are the times, though, that are frustrating traveling as a single woman.

The next day I worked in the studio.  The following day I also mostly painted, but additionally had an excursion to a small rocky beach with Clara and a friend of hers in the evening.  It was actually so nice and cool outside that evening that it was a little too cold for me to want to swim, but Clara promised many future opportunities. 

The next day was once again devoted to studio work.

Then I got sick.  This isn't a huge surprise; I actually don't think I get sick that often when I'm at home, but when I'm traveling I'm always being exposed to new viruses and bacteria.  This time it wasn't a head cold like in Peru or Iceland - it was a stomach bug.  Clara, in fact, thinks it may have been caused by drinking the potable but high in nitrates tap water, but I suspect that would have been a more immediate issue if it were the real problem.

I was sick for two days, which was both annoying from a productivity stance and also because we were supposed to go to Barcelona the second day that I was sick but I obviously wasn't up to it.  Clara was super sweet and made me a soup and rice and bought me a big bottle of purified water.

After those two days, I felt pretty much okay the next day and painted again.

Nau Côclea Residency - Log 2

After all the flights, I had to take the train from Barcelona to Camallera.  I was a bit nervous about this, since I didn't actually know which trains went to Camallera (only the regional trains do, but telling a regional from a non-regional is more difficult than it would first appear).  I also hadn't slept other than a 10-minute nap in Charlotte, NC, and the flights together were about 16 hours long.  First I had to find the train station (not too bad), and then buy a ticket.  It transpired that there were actually two stations I had to visit; at the second, at first it looked like I was in for a 2 1/2 hour to get on a regional train but then somehow a completely different train was found that would go to Camallera in the next four minutes.  I scrambled to get on that one, and did.  Then I spent the next couple hours of transit time falling asleep on the train, waking up, hoping I hadn't passed Camallera but also thinking that it was a ways away so I should be fine but not even being entirely sure this train actually did go to Camallera, and so on.  As I got more and more uncertain, I finally found a list of the stops of the train on my smartphone, and then in six more stops, I was in Camallera!

The residency is about a 20-minute walk away from the station, but the day I arrived my host and the art director of Nau Côclea, Clara, was there to pick me up (no one wants to drag their luggage 20 minutes when sleep-deprived and uncertain of end destination).  The residency itself is a small grouping of buildings in the midst of hay fields on the outskirts of Camallera.  The town is inhabited by only about 500 people, but the train station means it actually has a fair amount of services for such a small town.  It also means that travel to nearby towns is pretty easy.

I have my own small house to myself and it's kind of a hybrid between the Peruvian housing situation and a more Western one.  The kitchen is reminiscent of the one in Peru - a stovetop range fueled by a gas canister, a fridge, and a sink.  Unlike in Peru, though, the water is safe to drink right out the tap and the bathroom has a water-based toilet and a shower - and all the water can be heated.  However, the rooms have no air conditioning and rely on windows and airflow from outside to cool them off, so just like in Peru, the insects come in with the breeze.  I acquired about seven new mosquito bites in the first day before I remembered to start applying mosquito repellent every eight hours or so.

The first day I had a tour of the land, a snack, took a long nap, and then ate dinner with Clara while getting acquainted with her.  I'm the only resident here at this time, so she's going to be inviting me along to some of her social/arts events so that I don't get too isolated.

Nau Côclea Residency - Log 1

My flights were happily uneventful.  However, on the Charlotte-Barcelona leg, we were served yogurt for breakfast.  The foil top of mine was extremely puffed up.  This has occasionally happened to me before when the yogurt has begun to ferment and it's recommended that you don't eat them at that point.  I looked for the expiration date, and found it was 05.08.15.  That's actually not out of date - in Europe the dates are written day.month.year.  Yogurt can in fact ferment before its proposed expiration date, but typically it doesn't go bad two months before.  I peered around for a while trying to see other people's yogurts or a flight attendant to query, but everyone else nearby had already opened theirs up and there were no attendants on my side of the plane.

A seatmate on the other side asked me if I needed his help in getting a flight attendant since I was clearly looking around a lot.  I said I wasn't sure - what was his yogurt foil doing?  He investigated his yogurt and those of his friends, and said they were all bloated as well.  I figured that while one puffy yogurt may have snuck past quality control and onto my tray, if everyone's were like that then the staff clearly must be aware and believed they were okay to eat.  So I opened it and cautiously dug in while continuing to mull over the problem.  Then it hit me - it's because we're on an airplane.  The yogurts were packaged while on land and sealed with normal air pressure, and were then transported up with us to a lower air pressure environment so the trapped gases inside the yogurt container expanded and puffed the foil top up.  It didn't occur to me at the outset because I'd only ever encountered the problem in a different context.  This is one of the main reasons I like to travel: I love challenging expectations I don't even know I'm making (even when they're about something as quotidian as foil yogurt tops).