These were meant to be breakfast, but they got painted first. We went shopping yesterday and found the markets just bursting with beautful things, and no wonder -- the hot weather has accelerated and also compressed the growing and ripening process, so that Quebec strawberries are still coming just as peaches and corn are beginning to be available. It seems a bit bizarre.
When I was eating my breakfast at home today, I was visited by a very fine neighborhood cat, no doubt the one who's been digging in my planter-boxes...
At the studio I'm about to start work on a new print. And I've uploaded some new things to the shop this week, including a small handmade journal/sketchbook. All of this feels like a big venture into the unknown, so different from a physical gallery, but I was gratified to see there had been many visitors - mainly from this blog and FB -- and delighted to sell four things in the past week, which, along with the blog re-design and your kind and helpful comments, was enormously heartening!
I've lightened the blog background and hope it's sufficient. Please let me know.
Bon fin de semaine, everyone, or as a lot of people say here: bon weekend! My sympathy to all my friends in London -- and please write about it!
For the first time in years, maybe encouraged by the clearing-out we're doing in our studio, I've overhauled the design of this blog, trying to clean up, organize, simplify, and update the content. I'm not done yet, but done enough to make the changes "live" and try them out on you...so please tell me if the background color is too dark, or the type too small, or whatever. I'm still undecided about a fixed-width main column or whether to keep the width variable. I really like being able to post large photographs - what do you think?
The blogroll and category lists have disappeared for now because the former was woefully out of date, and the latter just too long a list; I've substituted a category clou, which is pretty interesting, to me at least! I'll be revising the blogroll and re-posting it in the sidebar soon, along with the new Search feature, the Online Shop, and a link to Phoenicia Publishing. My "author" photo and website have changed too - the ABOUT tab now links to my author's page at Goodreads, where my books are listed as well as a bunch of reviews, some cross-posted from here.
I also realize, somewhat to my chagrin, that much of this design work will rarely be seen by the many readers who follow the blog through an RSS feedreader...but that's OK, I'm glad to have you with me however you receive the content!
Doing this work, I felt once again how behind-the-curve TypePad is as a blogging platform, but I'm reluctant to leave because I know it will mean a drop in readership. For other purposes, I use WordPress and I greatly prefer it, but here we've been for nine years and counting, and here in this familiar, slightly faded velveteen box, for the time being, we'll stay.
Sunrise. These are the last of the photos from the Charlevoix.
This is an old house built in the Norman style - the curved edges of the roof are very typical - high above the river; it belongs to a friend of our friend.
Monkshood in the garden.
The view from the lawn of the house, over the little chapel you saw in the previous post.
And an imagined afternoon: rocking chairs on a Charlevoix porch, looking over Le Fleuve.
While we're sitting here, you might like to listen to a few selections from my friend Carole Therrien's CD, Vues du fleuve. Carole owns and runs a major Canadian jazz label, Effendi Records, with her partner, the well-known Montréal bassist Alain Bédard. She's a terrific jazz singer, but I know her best as a classical singing companion -- she's the first soprano soloist in our choir at Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal, and has a voice that makes time stand still. There are clips from all the cuts on her CD here, and three full selections here. Talking to Carole and listening to this music -- like visiting the Charlevoix -- have helped show me what "The River" really means to the Quebeçois. On her website she quotes Denys Lelièvre:
Devant le fleuve, l'homme est à la fois nu et comblé.
Il a la certitude d'être en lien avec quelque chose de plus vaste que lui:
<<Je ne suis plus seul maintenant.>>
(loosely translated: "Before the river, man is both naked and fufilled. He has the certainty of being in a place with something bigger than he is: 'I am not alone anymore.'")
The rugosa roses were in full bloom, even in the sandy soils near the river beaches. On Saturday our friend took us to Port-au-Persil, literally "Parsley Port," so named by Samuel Champlain because he thought he saw Scottish parsley growing there. Oddly enough, eventually Port-au-Persil was settled by Scottish families. Now, the little settlement is a mixture of French year-round dwellers and Anglo "summer people."
We had a picnic on the beach, where our friend used to come as a child with her grandmother and great-aunts. There were dry salami, Quebec cheeses, smoked mackerel, French bread, a bit of paté, and hard-boiled eggs, which we cracked and ate dipped in salt poured into a crevice in the rocks. "My grandmother liked to come here and have what she called a 'tea picnic,' our friend told us. "We'd make a fire in the rocks, and boil the kettle right there, and have tea with little sandwiches and often hard-boiled eggs." She looked out at the water and smiled. "I've eaten a lot of hard-boiled eggs on this beach!"
After lunch we explored the tide pools, being careful not to slip on the wet mats of seaweed. The pools were teeming with all sizes of a small, green, shrimp-like crustacean, and many many snails.
Then we went clamberng over the rocks, many of which had amazing, almost perfectly straight grey stripes in the pink granite.
This is Labrador tea, growing lushly at the edge of the rocks.
And this is the interior of the tiny seaside chapel shown in the second photo. Services were held here once a month in the summer until recently, when the house nearby changed hands; the present owners allow the chapel to remain open but don't permit public worship there, which is a shame - no one seems to know why. Though probably there were memories of tragedies held between those white walls, the chapel had a lovely, peaceful feeling inside, looking out at the water.
This is Baie-St-Paul, looking back upriver to the west, toward Quebec City. From here we drove north along the coast, up and down the steep cliffs, through the picturesque little villages of Les Eboulaments and St-Irénée, to La Malbaie/Point-au-Pic and our destination, Cap a l"Aigle (Eagle Cape.) Les Eboulements has an interesting geological history which I didn't know about until we got back (quotes below are from various sections of the Wikipedia:)
Les Éboulements is located in the centre of the Charlevoix crater. Mount Éboulements (Mont des Éboulements), in the eastern part of the municipality, is considered the central rebound of the earth's crust following moments after the meteor impact some 350 million years ago.
(In the photo at left, Baie-St-Paul is the bay at the righthand bottom of the semicircle; La Malbaie is the bay at the top. Les Eboulements is at the right center, just next to the river and this paragraph.)
The impact origin of Charlevoix crater was first realized in 1965 after the discovery of many shatter cones in the area...90% of the inhabitants of the Charlevoix now live within the crater.
In February 1663, a strong earthquake shook the Charlevoix region and triggered a large landslide down the slopes that characterize the hills of the area along the Saint Lawrence coast. Among the many eyewitnesses that testified to the significance of the event, priest Lalement wrote: "near the Bay called St. Paul, there was a small mountain alongside the river, a quarter of a league in circumference, which was abyssed, and as if it had not done that dive, it came out of the bottom to change into an islet." Thereafter the area was known as les Éboulements (French for "the landslides")
This region is about two hours northeast of Quebec City, five hours from Montreal. The tide reaches Quebec City- weakly, I think - but by the time you are at La Malbaie the river really feels like ocean. It's a saltwater estuary, full of a fascinating mixture of freshwater and marine life, and very beautiful. Ironically perhaps, considering its dramatic formation, the whole Charlevoix region has a reputation for peaceful charm, freshness and beauty, and for the excellence of its fish, farm products, cheeses, and even wine. It's very sparsely populated, and when you look north toward the mountains, all you see are trees: the boreal forest.
This was the view from the porch of our friend's house:
And here are the little fresh trout we had for dinner, brought to her by another friend that morning. I did the beheading and cooking honors, and it reminded me so much of my own childhood, when we used to go out and catch fish and clean and eat them for dinner.
Yes - those are the same as my own plates - an odd coincidence. Unfortunately, we were also someone's dinner: in spite of insect repellant, hats, turtlenecks, and citronella candles, the vicious black flies drove us inside after we finished our main course, and we spent a good while that evening dousing our painful, itchy bites with Benadryl and calamine lotion.
The house was an un-winterized cottage, quaint and rustic. Here's the view out our bedroom window toward the garden wall and street:
And the dining room, with a bowl of fresh peaches, the first we've had this season (these are from Ontario):
I loved this poster on the dining room wall, appropriate because there were birds everywhere. The house had a very warm feeling; we liked it.
Tomorrow, a trip to the beach at Port-au-Persil.
The heatwave continued through Tuesday. Early that morning I walked under threatening skies to the bus stop on Papineau. From there I took the bus to the Papineau station to pick up the green line on the métro, for a long ride through the stifling tunnels under the city, to have breakfast with my friend V. in Verdun.
When I left the house I was in one of those rather cross moods that's the result of the effect of heat and humidity and uncomfortable, short nights on an unaccustomed northern body. I settled miserably into the bus seat. At the plant kiosk near the Papineau station I bought a bunch of gladiolas for my friend, and then entered the stuffy, claustrophobic underground, where I had to stand up for the first part of the journey in a métro car packed with similarly uncomfortable commuters, while the plastic bag around the flower stems dripped water all over the floor. I was so full of my own thoughts that I wasn't seeing the other people. But all of a sudden, I did. And they were so beautiful in their variety, their tired and eager and bored faces, their hair and their skin, their individual outfits and diverse ages, that I was almost sorry when we passed the last of the centre-ville stations, and the car cleared out. I had forgotten about myself, and left the train in a good mood.
I got out at the Verdun station but had a nagging suspicion that I really wanted the previous one, so I consulted a large street map hanging on a dimly-lit wall behind scratched plexiglass. Yes, I thought, finally managing to squint the local streets into focus, it was the one before, De l'Eglise. So I took the footbridge over the tracks, missing one train in the process, and waited to retrace my journey. Later I discovered there is a way to walked between the two, underground, and that this station's labyrinthine structure had its origin in a disaster during the construction in March 1974: dynamiting caused the weak rock to cave in, creating a huge sinkhole in rue Wellington (scroll down to see historic photos), delaying completion and requiring the subsequent, inconvenient redesign.
When I reached the top of the escalator at De l'Eglise (which really does exit at a large church on Av. de l'Église) there was a huge rush of wind, and a woman blew through the swinging door, struggling with an inside-out umbrella that seemed to be alive. I was hit by a blast of wind and rain, and looked out at sheets of water starting to cascade from the sky. I had a couple of blocks to walk, but set out anyway, under my small red umbrella. My sandals, legs, and lower skirt were immediately soaked, but somehow it felt perfectly all right, even a relief.
I spent several happy hours with my friend, who's recently moved to a new apartment, talking about home and cooking, gardens and quilt-making, the spiritual life and art and writing. While we were out in the backyard garden, considering its many possibilities, the sun came out, and everything in the world began to steam. An hour later I put on my damp sandals and set off down the street, which was - if anything - even hotter than before. Going down the escalator into the métro I noticed the overhead patterns in the concrete, and although I only had my cellphone, rode up and down a couple of times, taking photographs, some with people on the stairs and some without. But it wasn't until I got home and looked at the images that I realized I had taken the one at the top of this post, far better than all the others -- through the cellphone viewfinder, taking shots quickly on the moving stairs, I hadn't seen the man standing there at all.
Banner for my new online shop, StudioCassandra
As I wrote a while back, I've been musing about what to do with some of my artwork. Back in the U.S., I was associated for just about thirty years with AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon, NH, a non-profit exhibition and educational institution, first as an exhibiting artist and then, for many years, as a board member, board chairman, and member of the education committee. It was an important part of my life, and something I really believed in. Over the decades I saw AVA (that stands for Alliance for the Visual Arts) grow from a small local gallery to an arts institution known and respected throughout northern New England, with a vibrant year-round educational program for children and adults, ongoing exhibitions of very high quality, showing the work of the best contemporary regional artists and often taking risks; most recently, AVA bought and renovated their own building, full of exhibition and teaching spaces and artist studios, in the most environmentally sound way.
Early on, I was still doing a lot of art, but during the years when I was working hardest at our design and communication business, I didn't do much art myself but I always cared about it - and AVA was one way I could, and did, stay involved. After moving up here, though, I haven't been thrilled about the gallery scene; for all its strengths in music and film, I don't find Montreal very strong in the visual arts or crafts, though we do have a very good contemporary museum. There are the predictable galleries catering to tourists in the Old City, but a lot of the work shown elsewhere is very conceptual and intellectual -- the kind of thing where the artist's statement seems more important than the work on the walls. And there is also the problem of money: Montreal doesn't have the sort of individual wealth you still find in America, and while Canada and Quebec have always strongly supported the arts, the Harper government is busy cutting arts funding right and left.
As in publishing, artists have the freedom now to market their own work, and some do quite well on the internet. So I've decided to open a virtual "shop" -- I'll give it six months or a year -- hoping that this will also be an incentive for me to keep producing new work, especially prints which are affordable, and also that it might add to our income. I have no desire to go backward artistically; I want to keep growing and pushing myself forward, but I do have a number of paintings and drawings in my flat file drawers and on my shelves that I'd rather know that people are enjoying in their homes, so I'll be listing some of those as well, and may in the future produce some high-quality, archival giclée prints of certain pieces, such as oil paintings and large works like the Iceland drawings.
I think all of us artists and writers are uncomfortable promoting our own work, but unfortunately this is the present-day reality unless we are well-established, with agents and sellers who are representing us - and who, of course, share in the profits, as they deserve to do. Making a living as an artist (and here I mean all the literary, fine, and performing arts) is becoming harder and harder, precisely at a time when -- I feel -- society needs art, and artists the most.
I don't want The Cassandra Pages to be commercial, so I've taken the "shop" offsite. I'll mention and show new artwork here, and continue to talk about the process, because you've been so interested, supportive and helpful with your comments and suggestions, but, as with Phoenicia Publishing, the transaction space will be over there for now. Of course I'm glad to hear any comments, suggestions, or stories of personal experience you've got relating to this venture, too!