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Matisse, France, Travel, Creativity, Adventure, Expatriates, Dreams, Reinvention


Chasing Matisse: The Book

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Matisse, France, Travel, Creativity, Adventure, Expatriates, Dreams, Reinvention

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January 26, 2003

Northern Exposure

I am happy no one knows where we are. It's not like any or everyone can't call or email, but since we're in the country, it seems like we're not so in touch. The hard news comes from the States, and we need a rest after the intensity of the last six weeks. Chasing Matisse is our passion, but starting a new life here is made more difficult by the fact our house at home hasn't sold-that beautiful, wonderful house that delighted everyone when they walked in with its sophisticated, elegant, yet comfortable charm. Everyone on this side of the Atlantic who sees pictures is wowed by it. Here the confluence of old and new, these particular adjectives I've used for our house, go together like butter and jam on croissant with a hot cup of steaming cafť au lait. I have to believe there is a cosmic reason that we do not yet know or understand. Whoever has the excellent fortune to buy 501 Holly will find it filled with good energy, a happy and remarkable home.

We get CNN here, and it's the first time we have seen it. It is good to hear the news in English-for a short time, but I don't really want to know what's going on in the world. I want to deal with my life day to day. I want to chase Matisse without politics.

When we arrived at St. Quentin we didn't have a hotel reservation. We didn't even know if we would stay there or drive on to one of the smaller villages where Matisse was born, then grew up. After driving around the centre ville, we decided to use St. Quentin as our base. Plus, the Hotel des Cannoniers called to us as we drove by it. The Michels bought their classical manor in sad disrepair and spent four years renovating it into a stunning home as well as lovely hotel. Our first room was really a suite with well-turned out kitchenette on the top floor. Very writerly, we thought, and a fine place to work. We later had to move, and our second room was elegant with a perfect view of the garden that, even in the dead of winter, reflected its grace. Oh, joy! Oh, perfection! We have exited the city without reservations and have landed here! The nomads did well, and even better, for a good price.

After breakfast, we go to see the local policeman (whom Marie-Paule has kindly called) to see if Jim's keys have turned up. The friendly gendarme pulls out a huge box of lost keys (which tells you people do try to help), but of course, none of these are Jim's. We walk back to our hotel and climb the steps to our room, have our third French lesson on CD since we've been in France. At least, the language is sounding more familiar, and we have the time to think about it. We prepare a lunch of good cheeses, crispy whole wheat rolls, and open a container of hummus, which we've bought at a store.

Afterwards, I lie on the bed reading, when Jim suddenly exclaims, "Here's the extra key!" It was stuck in his briefcase. We slink down the stairs to tell Marie-Paule the good news, step out to the automobile we've had for two days to search for the vital key (with clicker to lock and unlock the doors). It wasn't there, and we almost don't care. Jim digs though his briefcase again. This time Monsieur Bubbah, Jim (Jeem) Joade-it's hard to say which-pulls it out and holds it up sheepishly. There is no question. The lost keys did not want to be found. We have so many bags and sacks, Jim has so many pockets, it was easy for them to hide. Plus with our minds spinning in so many directions, it's hard to keep up with where we put what. As has usually been the case, what we thought was lost isn't lost at all. But at this point, we are sticking to our story-and our plan-to rest and lie down for a nap. It is a treat to be in such a pleasant place and allow ourselves this luxury-a day of rest.

I had an email from Bret, and she was feeling blue, wishing I was with her. Mothers always want to protect their babies, and I have been a lioness for mine. It breaks my heart when I can't fix their problems, which is inherent in life in general as well as in specifics such as this. I haven't been, can't, and never will be able to always do this for them (and besides, they wouldn't learn how to ride their own waves), nor even for myself. I emailed her back and told her that I loved her and gave her some sage advice about boys, which (of course) were one source of her distress. My Words of Wisdom: Men should be the icing on your cake but not the cake itself. Yeah, right. Easy for me to say. The history of the world tells something else. The intellect knows what the heart can't handle.

That night we tried a new apežritif-a Kir Normand: Cremant (the Burgundy version of champagne, which we'd loved on our trip in 1998) and Cassis-a delicious version of the classic drink. The centre ville was quiet.

The next day is big. We're going to Le Cateau-Cambrežsis, the small village where the Museže Matisse has recently opened after being closed for many years. Matisse was born in this village, then his family moved to Bohain a few kilometers away. It was a gray day as we drove through what once were (and maybe still are) beet fields. What a surprise the museum was! Quite grand for this tiny place, with a huge and lovely garden in back, which reminded us of the Rodin Museum in Paris, the same feel and positioning.

We were lucky indeed to find an exhibition of the famous French editor, Težriade, and his relationship with many painters that we love! Težriade knew and enticed his talented and famous friends to paint, draw, and write for his publication, Verve. Bonnard, Chagall, Giacometti, Gris, Le Corbusier, Ležger, Matisse, Mirož, Picasso, Rouault, and others were all displayed. We lapped it up as well as the permanent Matisse on display. Classes of children huddled on the floor with paper and pencils. They looked at Matisse's brilliant work and drew their own versions of his. What a privilege these children have, what vision of the museum and their teachers. What borders were opened in the children's supple minds? How might this change their ability to see?

For lunch we found a small hotel that is almost totally remodeled, stepped into its oh-so-French dining room, a wall of glass opening up the garden with a fire burning in the fireplace at the end. We lunched on Roquefort tart, salad, and pork with saffron sauce.

The first time I accepted calling myself an artist was on our six-week trip to France in 1998. I felt an admiration for artists here, and I identify with the thread that binds creative people together, the language that we speak about our work-the conception, construction, and the end result. At this museum, I was filled with the sensation of these men (and they all were, I think), these artists, creating their impression of their worlds. They put down on paper whatever childish, mysterious, beautiful, humorous, or dark images that they saw in their inner and outer eyes, the ones that spoke to them-and now to us. They were compelled and not afraid for their visions to be seen, their voices to be heard. This inspired me and reaffirmed my feeling about my own work. It makes me want to free myself, to express myself with abandon. Not to worry about the demands of fitting into a pigeon-hole, a mold of expectation (which I don't until rejection makes me doubt myself). It's the daring to be true to yourself-to be authentic-that is essential, no matter what form your art takes.

This is what all real artists face.

posted by Beth on January 26, 2003 | View All Diary Entries

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