My Paris Birthday, Part One and a Half

Beautiful Surprise

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Sometimes when you have your mind set on one thing (Notre Dame) you are surprised and moved by a different thing discovered along the way…..maybe not as grand or as  monumental as the thing you were seeking, not as polished and elegant, a little bit more weathered and worn around the edges, but certainly worthy of a visit. So you walk in. It is then that you understand the value of never passing up the chance to investigate and perhaps be rewarded for your effort with an unforgettable experience.

Just a short block or so up in the square, a five minute walk, from our Hotel des Continents located at 25, Rue Jacob in the Saint Germain district of Paris we found the well worn little lady of a church named Saint-Germain-des-Pres – astoundingly the oldest church in Paris! Construction on its Bell Tower was begun in 990 making it the oldest one in Paris plus a belfry dating from the 12th century. It is considered quite a prestigious site for the Romanesque style of art and architecture and people have been attending services there for fifteen centuries. It was a Benedictine Abbey with a major intellectual influence over the course of all that time. From the outside it is rather unimpressive, but the gorgeously colorful interior takes your breath away. Reds! Blues! Patterned columns carved with Romanesque capitals that are among the very first of the Romanesque period line the passageways on the sides of the church. There is some much needed renovation going on. Paint is peeling off and colors are fading but it is all being restored to its rightful splendor as we speak.

I was astounded at the beauty of this church and visited again several times while in Paris for several reasons – it seemed to be the center of our familiar little neighborhood with wonderful shops down every street from the church. Also one of our favorite cafes, Les Deux Magots was just across the street from the church and we ate there several times and did some serious people watching. The Saint Germain district is a perfectly positioned area in which to stay, on the Left Bank and just a couple blocks from the Seine. Everything we wanted to see was easily accessible by walking or cab if it was raining. A pastry tray was offered to me at Les Deux Magots that raised the French pastry bar by several notches. I limited myself to just one since they were all the size of melons.

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We  could hear the church bells ringing from that centuries old Bell Tower from our hotel room and the church had an outdoor Christmas bazaar happening every evening with rows of cute little wooden houses with red trim that we loved to frequent for food and gifts. Last but not least I loved this church because I am just a total fool for cathedrals and churches. They indicate so much about the people who lived centuries ago and that has everything to do with my art history courses at CU in Boulder, my own artistic gift and the ways I like to be inspired to paint and create, and then of course my sentimental longing to pay my respects to places of worship that have been so significant in the history of humankind. One of the rainy days when I visited the church a man was taking refuge there.

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On a freezing cold night with strong wind stinging any exposed skin, we bundled up and braved the situation to have our dinner standing up outside at a counter at one of the Christmas booths at the church – Raclette at its finest! Gooey melted cheese, scraped dripping, bubbling and hot off a huge cheese wheel then combined with thin sausage slices, slathered onto a French baguette cut lengthwise. Oh! And with a side dish of the best scalloped potatoes I have EVER had being constantly stirred in an enormous wok-like pan on a burner. I asked her what the recipe was for those potatoes and she told me in English with a lovely French accent – of course heavy cream played the biggest role in that yummy concoction. It was honestly one of the best meals we had in Paris and it was well under 15 Euros, and we had to brace ourselves against the wind as we wolfed it down.

One night it actually snowed which is a rare and wonderful freak of nature in Paris and we also happened to be in the square next to the church. Well, absolute crazy chaos ensued at the sight of snow coming down in flakes the size of cottonballs! Car horns honking! Sophisticated French folks yelling and laughing and catching snowflakes in their mouths! I wanted to invite them all to visit me in Colorado. (see photo of the church in snow above) We can show you some snow!

Days before I ever saw Notre Dame in Paris, which left me breathless and teary, I found this sweet little church of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, and I am forever grateful for that. It reminded me of a lesson I already knew – beauty comes from within and is undiminished by age.

Please stay tuned for Part Two of My Birthday in Paris! Your response to this series has been quite amazing and much appreciated. I am also posting photos on Instagram under Jo Ann Brown-Scott,  The Creative Epiphany

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My Birthday in Paris – Part One

 

Photos by Jo Ann Brown-Scott, late November 2017  – The Christmas tree is directly in front of Notre Dame. The weather was quite cold, rainy and it snowed one night, but it made the scenery look like fine etches in dark contrast .

Please read my previous blog titled Simple Things That Stir My Soul in order to have the foundation and perspective for this new blog. Paris is by no means a simple thing….you need to read the back story to understand how it happened that I spent my birthday there. Paris is monumentally impressive and a life-changing experience. The people could not have been more kind, cooperative, polite, funny and charming. Parisiennes  are quite eager to be of help and often eager to know who you are, exactly where you are from and anxious to have brief conversations with you if possible. Tres magnifique!

I ate onion soup almost every day for lunch, with a variety of cheeses and salads, in some little cafe or another but of all the places where my traveling companion extraordinaire and I decided to stop,  this photo was taken at the Frenchiest of French cafes serving the very Frenchiest French onion soup I ever ate in my life. One just cannot have enough onion soup, sinfully sweet flaky whip creamy pastry, fat puffy croissants and creme brulee to die for while in Paris. AND if it is also the assignment from your daughter then you must do it. After all, she is the bottom line reason I was there in the first place! (again, refer to previous blog)

My friend Susie Angeline, who also writes a WordPress blog titled The Sunday Traveler and is posting some of the exact same views that I am in her blog (we each see the same things a teensy bit differently ) and I put in a week’s worth of epic, happily exhausting days. We packed a lot in those 7 days – we jam-packed them with major monuments, art museums, cathedrals, elegant shops, a 2 hour day tour of the Latin Quarter, restaurants, and dozens upon dozens of smaller priceless discoveries that warmed our hearts and fed the voracious  appetites of our phone cameras and our digital cameras. When you go to Paris you must take both kinds of cameras – phone camera for ease and spontaneity and digital for clarity when photographing stained glass, rainy shots and distance. Yes it does become a juggling act since a new photo opportunity crops up about every 5 feet.

We hit the ground running about 10:30 am or so from the hotel (after checking in immediately from the airport) and ignored our jet lag to race off on foot to the Eiffel since it is the ultimate icon of Paris and we did not want to be inside a cab as the scenes blurred past us. We approached it from the back side (excuse my French) and found the neighborhood around it to be charming and exceedingly photogenic. We wanted to rent a flat there. We already started planning…we wanted to chuck our lives in the USA and live in Paris for a while. She would become a writer and travel photographer, I would paint and write my fourth book. We would dress the way French women dress. We knew we could do it. We discussed it over pastries, in lieu of birthday cake since it was the actual day of my birth when we landed in Paris. Too large a birthday to mention any numbers here. Don’t even guess please. Just leave it alone. I had 2 huge pastries and a hot chocolate with whipped cream. Combined with jet lag.

I was stunned to finally be in Paris – I thought my chances of getting there anytime soon would be like …… pigs flying. I remained in a constant state of awe for all the next 7 days, 24/7, to such a degree that I had to repeatedly pinch myself. Paris is a state of mind, I learned. Much more than a mere city. It is now in my DNA and I must go back.

Please stay tuned for Part Two of My Birthday in Paris!

Please visit these two extraordinary Blog sites for beautiful, enlightening travel posts by my daughter Kelly K. Heapy at CompassandCamera.wordpress.com  and my traveling companion Angeline Susie Munoz at TheSundayTraveler.wordpress.com

Simple Things That Stir My Soul

      Photo Courtesy of Pinterest

From This to That…..Read to the end please.

This time of year brings a powerful emotional rush for me, with blessings in such abundance that the ride from Thanksgiving until New Years Eve feels like one long continuous smile through teary eyes of gratefulness. I am a simple girl at heart, not very high maintenance I have been told. It is because I am an artist – it is ALL wondrous to me, the small is way more intricate than the big. Every day brings joy and wonder at all the goodness still in evidence in this tumultuous, troubled, wounded world. Every tiny thing stirs my soul. Every song, every kind word, every demonstration of love and giving melts me right down to a tender mess. During the holiday season, the common becomes the extraordinary; all that is good and true becomes magnified and more important in my eyes. Every moment is a reminder of how fortunate we all are to be where we are and who we are in a country of opportunity and bounty; we are all well aware of the alternatives.

I will always and forever be moved by the stark imagery of a red barn in the snow. It travels me back in time to my youth spent on eight magical acres in the country, when we lived in a huge enfolding mother of a home and Santa’s sleigh landed on the roof.

I am brought full speed to happiness by the giggles of little children waiting for Santa, opening gifts, bundled up against the snow, eating holiday cookies and finally snuggling in for bed on Christmas Eve.

I can tear up making mashed potatoes when I am suddenly aware of how many Christmases I have been fortunate enough to make them for a mob of partying people arriving through my door. I am so grateful to have survived all this time. I am so grateful for people who enjoy coming to my home.

I am amazed when the simple glass globe that changes colors and acts as a nightlite for  my laundry room (it really deserves a better location)  becomes the single most fascinating object in my home, (amid piles of new markers, crayons, coloring books) for my three precious nieces. I wish I had gotten a picture of them clustered around it, oooing and ahhhing….it was priceless.

I am struck by the panorama of the Rocky Mountain range spread out before me in snow-covered majesty against a deep blue sky, clear as a bell and sparkling in the late November sun. It is a scene I am treated to every time I drive through the entrance of the community I call home, and it makes my return from the most mundane errands a constantly changing artistic delight. That view is my barometer of weather rolling in and many times a barometer of the mood I am in. How can one not be inspired and humbled by that enormous landscape? It puts you right in your place if you are feeling the slightest bit grumpy. It straightens you up and makes you fly right as my mother would say.

I am ever-awed by the surprises that come my way, both great and small, during this giving season. I also happen to have a late November birthday, lumped in with Thanksgiving and Christmas and so I am also facing the fact that I am in the late fall of my life both literally and metaphorically. No need to remind me – I am well aware of the years, thank you very much. Winter is just around the corner. I can already hear the wind howling as it gets closer and closer. Anyone who is fortunate to have reached this point relatively unscathed asks herself or himself a lot of questions. I mean a LOT of questions….you become rather introspective. And quite philosophical. Wondering…how many Christmases are left…wondering how many of all the “this and thats” you might have left. What is to come? It is not always pretty up there in your mind’s eye. You welcome diversions.

I am fortunate to be blessed with an old-soul daughter, a rare and wise and fun daughter who is beautiful both inside and out, in my life who takes great pleasure in stunning me – shocking me – rendering me speechless and babbling like a goofball with monumental surprises beyond my wildest dreams! The most recent surprise (in a long list of events and occasions that scroll through the attic of my mind) first unfolded with a request to play a silly little game of rhymes, followed by the big realization when the answer was revealed, then chaos in my mind and dumbfounded confusion about how it had all been planned so carefully behind my back, complete with a Fed Ex delivery to my door with mysterious envelopes to open over a week’s time…….a plane ticket and more! It finally sunk in that I am being sent away to Paris for a week, accompanied by a dear friend (in on the planning) since my daughter was busy meeting deadlines with her job and could not get away. This is a wild dream that had been eliminated from any dreams (for one reason or another) I had for this particular year of my life! It is a rather large birthday I am facing. It makes me gulp. This surprise is large enough to match the numbers and now my gulps will be of wine. For an art major and fanatical fan of Da Vinci, Notre Dame, the Eiffel and all that is France, this will be heaven. I am crazy with anticipation.

I have learned more from this darling daughter of mine than I could ever have taught her myself. She was born Yoda-wise. I saw it in her baby eyes when she was born.

She believes deeply in the giving of experiences. She knows that there is great value in giving memories, because those will entertain and  warm you in the long winter of life to come when your ability to find adventure and action packed days is no longer a possibility. She finds ways to fill my bucket list and stoke my fire of a life well lived, so the embers will burn for a very long time. It must also be mentioned that her old-soul Renaissance Man husband is very much a part of this picture, also loving the fine art of the surprise! Thanks so much for this birthday gift! I will do it up right I promise!

Eiffel Tower by night

A Call To the Living – The Garage of Blessings in Oak Harbor, Washington

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recent photo of Mike Rowe and Kristiina

The Garage of Blessings

Quote by Algernon D. Black, former senior leader, New York Society for Ethical Culture:

This is a call to the living,

To those who refuse to make peace with evil,

With the suffering and waste of the world,

This is a call to the human, not the perfect,

To those who know their own prejudices,

Who have no intention of becoming prisoners of their own limitations.

This is a call to those who remember the dreams of their youth,

Who know what it means to share food and shelter,

The care of children and those who are troubled,

To reach beyond barriers of the past,

Bringing people to communion.

This is a call to the never ending spirit

Of the common man, his essential decency and integrity,

His unending capacity to suffer and endure,

To face death and destruction and to rise again,

And build from the ruins of life.

This is the greatest call of all,

The call to a faith in people.”

My sister Vicki Hand who lives near Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island in Washington has been telling me about the Nonprofit Organization THE GARAGE OF BLESSINGS for months and months. She is one of the volunteers at this place of giving and providing, to those who are less fortunate, the very basics of life – not just warm clothing but soap and toothpaste, blankets and food and most of all love and recognition. I was there myself on a recent trip to visit my sis and I was overwhelmed with the organization and the efficient cooperation of its volunteers. But there is an ambiance that surrounds all of the hustle and bustle as people are assisted in finding what they need to survive – and let there be no mistake I do mean survive. The only words that begin to give you a feeling for the rarified air of this place are simply the words Love and Respect, for all those folks who come in the door and are greeted without judgement and an eagerness to be of help.

Founded in her own garage by an extraordinary woman named Kristiina who has a heart as big as the planet and goals to match, the Garage of Blessings had a visitor yesterday, bringing a camera crew and bundles of great joy. Mike Rowe of the TV show “Returning the Favor” paid her a visit, listened to her story, met everyone and managed to enlarge and enhance her warehouse space in ways that she might have needed years to accomplish on her own. Kristiina dreams BIG and so does Mike Rowe so they are a match made in heaven.

If you are fortunate to be moving to Oak Harbor, Washington, (lucky you) or you already live in the area and you would like to volunteer your services or donate goods just get yourself over to the  Garage of Blessings – everyone knows where it is.

Go to http://www.garageofblessings.com for more information.

Look for Mike Rowe’s TV Show – “Returning the Favor”

https://www.facebook.com/GarageBlessingsOH/

 

GARAGE OF BLESSINGS VOLUNTEERS

Volunteers ready and eager to be of help and take your donations!

You Know What I Think?

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Above photo of this giant prayer wheel was taken at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Singapore, 2016

Wow, it has been a long time since I woke up in the morning not worrying about what might have happened overnight. These days I am already agitated about what I missed overnight as I am reaching  for the TV remote, bracing for what will be rolling across the bottom of the screen and the images I will see… More often than not it is disturbing news that starts the day which is repeated endlessly for the next 24 hours, only to begin again  the next morning with a fresh batch of reasons to feed my anxiety. Some people used to say that I – we – should just let it roll off our backs and have faith that all will work itself out and be fine in the end – there is nothing we can do about it anyway. Who says that anymore? Better in what end? When? Will things be better in our lifetimes or our children’s? I am a positive-thinking person, optimistic even, but certainly no pollyanna, and because we are all family now with the proverbial loose canons who are allowed to undermine rational thought, we take two steps back for every one forward. There is no longer any “your people” and “my people”. There is less than 6 degrees separating us, more like 2, since the onset of the internet and the speed of traveling. I know what happens in some remote areas faster than the residents who actually live there do in many situations because news travels at the speed of light. I breathe and I cry and I bleed for everyone. It is one common planet that unites us, and the domino effect is in full swing all the time. What knocks you down comes back around and eventually takes me down too.

Unless you are numb or dumb with misinformation, in denial, simply uncaring and/or too lazy to read and inform yourself properly you have no escape from the constant noise of the news and as much as I like to think that the good news out-numbers the bad, there is still an unusually large tidal wave of bad news now. If you believe, as I do, that the earth is a living breathing organism that depends upon our ecological maintenance and our so-called intelligent expertise to keep it healthy then you know we have let Mother Earth down quite miserably. The health of Big Blue and all of her inhabitants (in every category; botanical and animal) is not only dependent on our efforts for being ecologically responsible, but I believe that the collective mental health of us all carries tremendous clout toward the well-being of the planet. Right now it seems the world has lost its mind and we are giving almost all of our attention to wackos in high places. Why don’t we stop this adolescent behavior? Why is it taking so long to rid ourselves of this ominous influence? Is it because we thrive on chaos? Are we just that bored?

We must bring a whole body wellness to the table in order to evolve and flourish. We must learn to effectively filter our thoughts and allow less time for the daily drivel we are fed. We are one with this planet and we are not holding up our end of the universal plan. Some other societies and indigenous people seem to understand this symbiotic relationship far more deeply than we do, unfortunately with far fewer resources than we have to use toward their dreams for a better earth. In spite of our resources we are not such an enlightened country in comparison with others. In many ways we are our own worst enemy.

I for one feel powerless to make change happen…and that is the sad truth.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Corner

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This week’s Photo Challenge brought back so many memories of travels to Siem Reap Cambodia where every street corner is jam-packed with so much visual stimulation that it takes a while to digest each one. Layers and layers of texture, color and pattern….and in nearly every photo I, the artist, see an abstract composition. There is usually a path for your eye to follow, a focal point, and places for your eye to rest….in layer upon layer of surface and depth. As with abstract art, if you divide the image into quadrants, each square stands well on its own as a fascinating composition.

Photo Challenge: COLLAGE

via Photo Challenge: Collage

I work primarily with paper collage and found objects, and have since I was a fine art student at CU in Boulder, Colorado during the 60’s when the process was relatively new in university fine art classrooms. Fortunately for me, U. of Colorado had a handful of cutting edge professors whose experimentation epitomized iconic 60’s art. Picasso, Raushenburg and other prominent artists worked in collage in the 20th century and became our inspiration and our guides; often using wood, scraps of metal, nails and other found objects to create compositions with heavy emphasis on color, pattern and texture. In my college art classes we had no special materials available to us and so we used newspaper, kindergarten glue, old tissue, wrapping paper, string and brown manila paper bags. We used rubbish, basically. We loved the process and we were innovative and excited with it. Among other pieces I completed a 3×4 ft canvas collage with powerful color and deep texture, titled Chicago Fire, which I kept for years and then my brother- in-law asked to have it so I gave it away…. sad.

I have also taught collage, and explained my techniques and my passion for the process to eager and imaginative adult students whose eyes were opened to the magical art of cutting, tearing, painting and layering exotic papers from around the world.

“Abandon your pre-conceived notions about traditional fine art and begin a mixed media journey where improvisation, freedom from boundaries, self-discovery and originality are valued higher than any predictable destination.”  – Jo Ann Brown-Scott

Fine art mixed media collage is not decoupage, is not scrap-booking, will not work well using  Elmer’s glue and does not work well with watercolor or oil paints. Since collage has morphed and changed and re-invented itself through the years, even centuries,  there are now available many new products for the sole purpose of creating collage. Acrylic paints are by far the best media to use. Liquitex Matt Medium is your glue. I work on canvas, not paper, because paper buckles and warps under the wet glue. I get my collage papers from fine art stores that sell gorgeous handmade papers from around the world, but I am also constantly on the hunt for unusual and marvelous handmade papers that I discover in all types of shops – wonderful tissue papers, fancy paper shopping bags and  packaging can be found everywhere but especially so in other countries as you travel.

Collage is a re-cycling art where papers, cards, old jewelry, small stones, shells and items you have saved for years simply because you love them can find homes in a fine art creation that not only gives your favorite things new life and purpose but display a creation that is unique to you and your personal experiences.

My collage creations range from small to gigantic and I have sold them in galleries across many western states. There is currently a mixed media collage market out there that will astound you once you know what to look for and ask for as you visit fine art galleries. Art stores carry many instructional books on the subject. You need not have any artistic experience to learn the technique and begin your collage journey – there are no rules – only techniques to understand and materials to acquaint yourself with that work for you. It is a highly serendipitous art form – happy accidents and new discoveries are common. Improvisation is the key. Freedom from any hard and fast rules is the norm. It is all about letting go. Therapeutic it is.

No two collages are ever alike – they are like snowflakes. If you layer the paper and paint and build texture and repeat, tearing your papers rather than cutting them because a torn edge is so beautiful, then over-lapping them again in some areas, painting on each layer as you build texture  – well you can seldom go wrong. It is fun and rewarding!

Jo Ann Brown-Scott – artist and author

http://www.thecreativeepiphany.com      www.acanaryfliesthecanyon.com

Book – The Creative Epiphany, Gifted Minds, Grand Realizations – non-fiction narrative about life-changing epiphanies in creativity

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Highlands Ranch, Colorado