Today's Word: MERCURIEL
: changing (mood), fluctuating, inconstant, variable...
Audio file here, Translation at the end of post.
Le monde est violent et mercuriel--il fera ce qu'il veut avec vous. Nous sommes seulement sauvés par l'amour--l'amour l'un pour l'autre et l'amour que nous mettons dans l'art que nous nous sentons forcés de partager: être un parent; être un écrivain; être un peintre; être un ami. Nous vivons perpétuellement dans un bâtiment en feu, et ce que nous devons en sauver, tout le temps, c'est l'amour. -Tennessee Williams
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
Tess came to visit this weekend! She's my longtime painter friend from England, who calls tomatoes toh-mah-toes, says things like "mercurial" (to describe the sea), and calls me Darling (as in Daar-ling, we must get together soon!).
We decided to have lunch in Bandol so that Jackie and Tess could see each other, too. Jackie is my 20-year-old daughter and she's studying art in Toulon, and waitressing on Sundays for some argent de poche....
After lunch, Tess snuck around the corner, with Jackie, to stuff a big tip into the art student's pocket because in France all tips are collected by le patron, and little of it ends up in the pockets of workers. Jackie insists her boss is fair about this, but Tess wasn't taking any chances, having worked in French restaurants over the 4 decades she's lived here.
After lunch in Bandol, and before our stroll beside the--mercurial--sea here in La Ciotat, Tess suggested we sit down and paint. Quelle idée!
Sensing my fears, Tess had an idea. "We'll paint that lovely willow tree! Let's simply focus on a section of it. We'll paint those branches..." And the way she said it ("braahn-ches") kind of suckered me into this unexpected watercolor session.
My attention was scattered as I watched people walking by our house, sometimes slowing to view the artistic activity here in our garden. Not only was it nerve-racking to be painting beside an artist, but we now had a mobile audience. One of those passers-by was my 8-year-old golden retriever, who parked himself beside my chair. Smokey wanted to play artist, too! which reminded me: just play!
"Notice the light hitting the side of the leaves, Tess was saying. "Now see the darkness on the other side. Let's start with the light...." Tess had already made several vertical brown strokes on her canvas. I hurried to pick up a paintbrush but it felt as awkward as chopsticks. And which one to use? Thank God there were only two. Mimicking Tess, I picked up the big one.
Tess was painting away with a shade of green...but where was this color green in the paintbox? A childhood rhyme came to mind, as I struggled to remember color mixing...yellow and blue make green... (or did yellow and red make green?)
"Here, you can use the color I've already mixed," Tess offered. "Just start sploshing it on!"
I glanced over at Tess's own canvas, wondering what all those verticle brown lines were for?
"Those are the branches, darling," she explained, but all I could see (ahead of me) was the green of the leaves!
"Do you need to get your glah-ses?" Tess hinted.
Oh, yes! Mais bien sûr!
Still feeling ill-at-ease before the blank canvas, I bargained with my art teacher: "OK, I'll paint--but only if I can throw it away in the end!
Tess agreed and before long I was settled in. If those paintbrushes felt like chopsticks, the act of painting felt like picking up slippery noodles with these foreign utensils, or brushes. Why was this so difficult for me? I began to think about Tess's former students, and the wonderful works of art I'd seen with my own eyes. And here I could not even paint a leaf--not even an abstract leaf (as we'd agreed to do, to simplify).
"Just let go!" Tess said. I brushed aside all the torturous thoughts and got on with the moment. When else would a chance like this come around again? A little while later I was giddily painting right over my braahn-ches and trees....with a shower of crimson wings (red for determination? Wings for freedom?). Feeling more and more relaxed, I went to re-dip my brush into the glass of water. That's when I noticed how close the cups were...
"Tess, What are the chances I've dipped my brush into my teacup?" I wondered.
But my good friend brushed aside the worry, "Oh, I'm sure I've done it dozens of times myself. Carry on, darling!"
And like that, we sipped our colorful tea, and painted gleefully. The tourists strode by and the pepper tree swayed gently, mimicking Smokey's golden tail as he snoozed on and off beneath the artists' table.
* * *
Post note: Later, when I went to prepare dinner, I was surprised to find my little painting tucked into the window above my kitchen sink. Tess had set it there...in case I had a change of heart. I was glad it didn't end up in the poubelle. The little work of art was, after all, a sweet souvenir of our time together.
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l'argent de poche = pocket money
le patron = the restaurant owner
quelle idée! = what an idea!
la poubelle = garbage
In Drawing Lessons (ebook is on sale!) The author of the Love in Provence series returns to the South of France with a poignant portrait of a woman who must learn how to create a new life for herself. Order here. Sale ends January 31st.
Translation of today's French quote: The world is violent and mercurial--it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love--love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love. Tennessee Williams
Our mercurial sea in La Ciotat and a chance sighting I will never forget, photos here.
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