Tuesday, February 28, 2012

This is your Life

                                                                                                                                      Holstee Manifesto

Monday, February 27, 2012

Cap Taillat, Ramantuelle

Starting out for a picnic and little hike near San Tropez

                                 Those are my friends rounding the corner around 9h30.  The sun is still hiding.

Driftwood in every cove after the last big storm.

Lots of material for budding architects and artists.   I've hiked this trail 5 times but have never seen so much driftwood.  

Found Art:  Study in Blue

The sun breaks after an hour or so...

These tree trunks are like matchsticks laid willy nilly.

After rounding the point and hiking to the end of the trail, we come back down and choose this picnic spot.
We each packed a picnic.   I love that we all have our little Laguiol knives to cut our fruit or carve off a piece of cheese.  

The waves lull us into a nap after lunch.  The green moss is really this color.

Looking back to the point.

We are loath to leave at 4 so we sit for another half hour  near the end of the trail and watch the kids and dogs..... with plenty of sticks.

This trail is the perfect amateur "sentier", thought of as "easy".
Still, I know I will be sore tomorrow as there is plenty of climbing and I have been "winter" idle and lazy.

 But a day with few houses in sight, no city noise,  no cell phones.... just the trail and a chunk of sublime coastline is just what's needed.  I should try to do this more often.

  One third of the FRench are self confessed hikers, as are these friends of mine who hike at least twice a week.  There are 120,000 miles of well used trails across France and from my experience, well maintained and in lovely spots.

 " Enfin"... we  finish our day and amble the last couple of meters to the car.  No Academy Awards ceremony for me tonight.  I will be in bed early.

 On the way home my friends speak of recipes:  how and why to freeze fois gras:  best way to make a gesiers salad,  where to buy organic chicken livers;   how long to hang a rabbit for cooking etc etc.

After all they are French , and this is France,  land of "randonneurs et cuisiniers".

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Is Just showing up enough

Someone asked me what was the last picture I painted and it was canvas below. 

I am still having a lot of trouble getting back into the studio.  It seems to have to do with existential questions about what is important.  It also has to do with how hard I want to work at moving the stuff out into the world so that it doesn't clutter up my garage!  Mundane concerns do stop me, sad to say.   

But last night I saw a documentary about DAvid Hockney  from the National Portrait Gallery in London.  

                                              Mary Payne  Oil on canvas,  100x110 cm.

 David Hockney to me is not a particular talent....not certainly like Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon or say Picasso. 

 But although Freud, Bacon and Picasso were all original , exceedingly imaginative talents and prolific ,  I wouldn't want to look at their art all day while I could live with that of David Hockney, especially the earlier oils evoking "isolation". 

  I salute the big three ( Freud, Bacon and Picasso) as geniuses, I want to see their exhibits but I don't want to live with their work on the walls of my house.  ( If I did own one of them ( choke), it would be in a museum or on an auction block somewhere...so it's a moot point)

But Hockney has shown up everyday and has done the work, even taking a year off from his home in California to paint the double portraits in London.  And he, like any recognized artist continues to do his art everyday, in his case drawing and painting and make it the focus of his life.

 He doesn't care what the critics say about his watercolor double portraits, the subject of the documentary.  AS he says,  (paraphrased here) ... they are for me. I am not giving ( or selling) them to the sitters so I don't care what they think.

 And he continues to do the work as he has for years without judging himself. And by doing the work, he improves....and....   Obvious, but not so obvious.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Movie Night

Home  from a late night wine fest with good friends after a movie... This is admittedly a drunken, late night rambling.  Monsieur is away on business and I have the week alone.

  Walking home along the Promenade (des Anglais ); a few families with children back from the Carnival parade, one little girl with wings attached racing along,  a couple of youths dressed like women with plastic breasts exposed.  There were  a few of the usual "ladies on the game", two guys taking photos of each other on a bench;  a man scouring the beach with a Geiger counter.... In fact lots of folks out late at night.   In every town in the world would it be the same?

  I feel safe walking home along the Promenade tonight although their has been a mafia style killing in Nice this week.  It's interesting how we accept a certain level of violence in life now.  Maybe that was always the case or we just have more information now and are habituated to hearing about it.

  It's dark up my street but the champagne colored tiger cat with the celadon eyes awaits my return home.   He is not really my cat, I keep reminding myself.   His afternoon nap schedule on our sofa has been upset because I left early for the movie.  I open the door and he dives in.

The Iron Lady, the movie  " Femme de Fer" we saw was a tour de force for Meryl.  She nailed it with her false teeth, her voice modulation , in short her uncanny ability to inhabit any character she takes on.

 But more than that it was a lesson in how to understand what is happening in America today with the standoff between left and right.  I got to see how "giving in ", compromise,  is a sign of weakness to some.... as it was for Margaret Thatcher.

And I got to see a glimpse of how power seems to corrupt whomever it touches.  Margaret Thatcher was a very compelling leader but the school-marm scene where she corrects her colleagues and "dresses them down" was chilling and exemplary of this misuse of power.   It seems to come to every politician.  I can think of only a few exceptions.  

But I was determined to not be taken in by Meryl Streep's magnificent skills and there I failed completely.   She has made a real person for us,  an amazing character called Margaret whom we admire whether we agree with her politics or not.

Mothers and Children: France/ USA

                                    Elisa, a young French friend chez nous

This morning I read an interesting article in the NY Times stating that unmarried mothers have surpassed married ones in the USA.  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/18/us/for-women-under-30-most-births-occur-outside-marriage.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha2

Here in FRance , I believe that has been the case for a long time due to legislation that encourages and protects mother and child. 

 There is also the Pacs legislation that awards social security benefits to couples living together ( not married) who sign on as a PACed couple.  I know several couples living together with this arrangement and many more unmarried parents than I knew in the States. The stigma of unmarried parents is much less prevalent here among educated parents than in the USA (despite it still  being a country registered largely as Catholic).  

 I googled this article that I have shortened and paraphrased.  It was written in 2003 but I believe is generally still true of the legislation in place.   The article was written by Council on Contemporary FAmilies Intern, RAchel Henneck.    

French family policy shows a more comprehensive commitment to offering choices to all working mothers, than say the USA. Italy, Germany or Japan.  The French never set out the way other countries did to place mothers back in the home:

The first paid maternity leave was introduced in 1913 (Lewis 166), and public child care is more affordable and widely available than in these other countries. In addition, France offers generous family allowances and parental leave benefits that were conceived of as replacement of foregone wages.
Even though generous parental leave benefits and universal family allowances make it possible for more French women to stay home, almost the same proportion of French women as American women are employed (respectively 46 percent and 47 percent).

 But many US women work part time; a higher proportion of French women work full time, especially single mothers, in large part because they have access to high-quality, state-run, subsidized child care. In France, 25 percent of zero- to two-year-olds and 95 percent of three- to five-year-olds are in public child care (Lewis 170, 164).   As of 1995, 78.8 percent of women between 25 and 39 (those most likely in their childbearing years) were employed (Trifiletti 83).

In recent years, however, means-testing of benefits has been promoted. This emphasis on vertical redistribution may encourage lower-income women in particular to stay at home, because these women may also receive pronatalist benefits that pay more and give longer leave for third births. 

Means-tested allowances have benefited single wage earners more than working wives because single-mothers' income is likely to be lower, so they are more likely to qualify for additional benefits (Lewis 167). Recently, the number of lone mothers receiving the means-tested lone parent allowance has  increased.

Parental Leave
France offers all women workers a paid, job-protected maternity leave six weeks before and 10 weeks after the births of the first two children, eight weeks before and 18 weeks after the birth of the third child, 34 weeks (12 prenatally) for twins and 42 weeks (24 prenatally) for multiple births. Maternity leave, pre- and postnatally, is mandatory (Ruhm and Teague 135). The benefit paid over maternity leave is equal to the woman's net salary, within certain limits. For insured mothers, benefits equal 80 percent of earnings for up to 16 weeks for the first and second child, 26 weeks for subsequent children and 46 weeks for multiple births (International Reform Monitor).
At the end of the maternity leave, paid parental leave is available to either parent until the child turns three or if at least two children at home need care. The parent is then re-integrated into the previous or a similar job. Women are virtually the only employees to take parental leave, despite its availability to fathers.

Child Care
Younger children are entitled to places in full-day child care centers (creches) and sometimes family day care. Beginning at age two and a half or three, children are served in all-day preschool programs, the ecoles maternelles, for which families pay on a sliding scale. Lower-income families usually pay nothing and better-off families pay no more than 10 to 15 percent of their income for this service (Gornick and Meyers 3).
Nearly all children enroll in ecoles maternelles, even if they have an at-home parent, because these nursery schools have become such an effective mode of socialization, education and cultural reproduction (Bergmann 30). The schools are very important in preparing the vocabulary and communication skills of young children for the social and academic rigors of the first grade (Stanley).
France also offers allowances to defray the costs of hiring child care, at home or in registered facilities, for children under three (International Reform Monitor).

In France, about 4.4 of 1,000 women were married in 1995-a rate almost half that of the US (European Institute of Women's Health), and for women, the average age at first marriage is currently about 28. For men, it's about 30 (Ford).
The age at first marriage has increased by about five years over the past twenty years, mostly because couples are more and more likely to spend several years cohabiting prior to legal marriage (Ford).

Pushed by awareness of cohabitants as a growing demographic group and the gay and lesbian rights movement, France has politically accepted the trend toward cohabitation and legally acknowledged the need for homo- and heterosexual cohabitants to have legal rights for themselves as a couple and for whatever children they might have.

 In 1999 France enacted the Civil Solidarity Pact law (Pacs), a new code giving legal stature to gay and straight couples traditionally considered unmarried (Q Online). The registered contract is available to couples of non-relatives of the same or opposite sex.

 Couples are treated as partners for social security purposes and after three years their income is taxed as if they were married. Property relations are determined by the couple's own contract and the Pacs is terminated by mutual agreement or if one partner marries (Martin and Thery 150-151).
France's divorce rate is about the same as America's. No-fault, mutual-consent divorce was introduced in 1975 (Martin and Thery 144).

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pupazzo de Neve

    Puppet of snow "Pupazzo di Neve.

"To all of you fortunate enough to have home heating in America,
Here in "sunny Italy", we now have temperatures in the teens (F°) during the night, the forecast includes "wind chill", and I am freezing my butt off... But the snow can be very pretty here...
Attached is a photo showing the result of a recent blanket of snow here and Pupazzo di neve = puppet of snow (snowman).
Enjoy, and greetings to all!   T."

I just received the above message from my husband's cousin, sent by one of the family in Aquara, Italy.

   Yes, we are having a cold "snap" in Europe as in "snap , crackle and pop", (which ice is wont to do ).

Monday, February 6, 2012


My friend Bruce B. took these photos in central Nice and added this poetic comment, "

Every day at dusk starlings gather by the thousands to roost in a huge tree
just below our balcony. 
Once they've settled
the noise is deafening until I close the door and roll down the volet.. 
When the weather warms they'll move on, 
following the sun northward… "


I have long watched the antics of the Starlings as one of the tiny astonishments that nature sends our way.  Since they are now gone from my neighborhood I thought they had.....perhaps flown south to  Africa which after all, is not far from here.  But it appears that they are still with us in Nice. 

 Have a look at this short video shot near Oxford, England to see the ballet of bird bodies in perfect coordination.   


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Poem for Sunday: Philip Levine

What Work Is

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is--if you're
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it's someone else's brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, "No,
we're not hiring today," for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who's not beside you or behind or
ahead because he's home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You've never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you're too young or too dumb,
not because you're jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don't know what work is.

Philip Levine 


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ice Rink for Birds

This is a bird bath in the yard which is used a lot by the merles ( blackbirds) rouges gorges ( robins) tourterelles ( collared doves) , starlings,  coal tits et al.

Now it's an ice rink. (No, that is not a layer of plastic wrap.)  You would have to have some tiny skates and some tinier ankles to avail yourself.   My husband took this picture this morning before I deigned to get up.

 It was even snowing a few flakes last night but not enough to stick.   Next week will be sunny but crisp around 6-8 ( 42-47 F) degrees like the weather in Seattle.   I know my buddy Jeanne in Marbella is grinning at her 17 (63 F) degrees but hey, this is fine as long as it doesn't go on for too long.

  G√Ęter, spoiled.  They say we are so spoiled for good weather in Nice that none of us goes out on a rainy day.  If we don't have to we just wait until it's sunny.  Well wouldn't you?