Les Amusantes

laughing mannikin

I look for the funny in everything… and on this trip I have found some things that have amused me… I have photo-documented some and written down others. I will share.

In the south of France, Pastis, the anise alcool that is made locally,  is practically a way of life. In the afternoon, when the sun is beating down on you causing you to sweat in an inhuman manner, you want something cold and refreshing. Pastis is just that something. As is customary, you have the straight alcohol served in a tall narrow glass with ice. Your server will also bring a jug of water and you dilute at your leisure. What’s amusing about this, you ask? There in Aix, Pastis is cheaper than coffee.

It is becoming a bit of a joke that whenever Judy and Nelson go to Europe, they bring a heat wave. This trip has been no exception. The London Leg of our trip was rather warm… we had prepared for rain and brought jackets and umbrellas… but London was experiencing unseasonable heat when we got there. Not surprising, the weather was warm in Aix… uncomfortably so… in Paris… we’ll see. Thanks Nelson and Judy.

oh so silly

Okay, it’s no mystery that I love Vespas… and France is full of them! You turn the corner and Boom! There’s a Vespa! this happy little number caught my peepers. My guess is that a rather cheerful person owns this one.

I was sitting one day in Aix people/scooter watching and wondering if there was a way to kill the “Vespa Cool.” You can’t help but look cool on a Vespa… but there is a way to kill the cool factor… Here’s some: toilet paper on your shoe, riding a Vespa. Old 300 lb lady with groceries, on a Vespa. Large balding man in undershirt and shorts with flip flops… on a Vespa (actually witnessed).

Love a duck!

Idon’t know why, but I just love ducks. I think it goes back to my childhood when my folks used to take me to the duck pond near where we lived, and I would feed the ducks. So when I see ducks, or anything duck-related, I feel a need to stop, smile, feed, or photograph said winged adorable creature.

I had a book as a child. It was about this family of odd shape-shifting creatures. Each one had a different color and a different personality (One was an artist! I liked that one!). They are Barbapapas. The book I had was about the humans (that’s us) polluting the Earth, killing all the animals and making a mess of things (shounds familiar) and so the Barbapapas do like a Noah’s Ark thing and gather up animals and some people and shoot off into space. It was wonderfully illustrated and I stared at the cartoons for hours.

So in Aix, I ran across a toy store that had these lovely stuffed Barbapapas in the window. Too bad the store was closed.

Barbarapapa

Last day in Aix…

Today was our last day in Aix en Provence. I am a bit sad to leave as I have enjoyed the city muchly. But Paris awaits us.

As it was la jour finale, there were a few things I wanted to accomplish before leaving. One: Eat pizza provencal. Peter Mayle mentioned the pizza pie in Provence A-Z and so it had to be consumed. Here’s my assessment. The crust, if you could call it that, is thin like a crepe, which I certainly don’t mind. I ordered one with chevre and olives, and it had a thin layer of mozzerella and tomato sauce…with whole black olives… just the outer edges of the pizza were “crusty” which is fine. I didn’t believe the waitress when the pizza was presented to me. She’d said that the size I ordered was big enough for only one person. When it came I thought… no! Two people, but I was able to eat the inner circle, pas problem!

Secondly, I wanted to visit Musee Granet…. the art museum which is housed right next to the Eglise de Jean of Malta. The current exhibition is of Pierre Alechinsky and it is fabulous! Judy and I found his artwork to be cartooney, whimsical and full of personal visual language… we were so impressed that we bought the 30 euro book of the exhibition. I can only say that I am so going to look further into his work.

Lastly, Comic book shop and art store! I’d found a comic book store and an art supply store practically right next to one another on the rue des tanneurs. But they’d been closed for the holiday. So I went up today and Objectif Bulle was again closed. So I headed over to the art store for an new travel water color brush. The gals working there, including the owner, were so helpful and very obliging to my so-so french speaking. I gave them a “Squid” sticker and left feeling very cheery! It truly is a wonderful art store… very clean and well-organized… friendly!

I happened to stumble upon an outstanding comic book store… The Unicorn. I found the graphic novels and proceeded to pick out a few to purchase… I, of course, told the fellas I was a toonist in America and I gave them stickers and some Squid Books I’d brought along. They were so pleased and gave me a book in return! I tell ya, the folks here are so nice!

Oh, and I am behind on my Flickr uploading… I have so many pics I want to share… I will try to get them up soon!

Packing up for Paris... the book on the right was one purchased at The Unicorn today.

Marseille today…

This day, thursday, one day after Bastille Day, was an adventure. To start off, my people and I walked down to Hertz Rental Car on Rue Victor Hugo to try to retrieve a lost item. The day before Bastille Day, we rented a car (a Chevy, if you can believe that!) and went to see the French Provencal countryside (the Lower Luberon Mountain area)… We drove the narrow country roads (I say we when it was really only Nelson, the Brave) to find lavender fields, Absinthe tasting rooms, and to see the wine and olive groves. All was lovely, got tons of photos (including Harold in a lavender field… see squidrowcomics.com for some pics) but the only damper on the day, was Nelson forgot his iPad in the little car’s trunk. Of course, Bastille Day Hertz was closed and we couldn’t talk to anyone about it. We don’t have a phone, and email won’t get you to the local establishment.

So this morning, we shoot down to Hertz and by a wonderful stroke of good happiness…  the car didn’t immediately go back out due to the holiday… we had success in retrieving the ipad…. and Nelson got to show it off to the French counter folks there at the car place (they haven’t had the ipad here for very long). Okay… we do this, grab a cup of cafe au lait, and right across the street is the train station… where one can catch a train to say… even more southern France than we are… to Marseille which is right on the Med. This is what we do having packed a lunch and brought suits and towels.

When the train gets to Marseille we head down the hill from the station (it’s at the top of a rather large hill)… this is where planning would come handy. This is where we sorta failed. We figured that we’d get off the train, follow the signs to the Plage (beach)… nope… no signs… took the wrong street which took us down to the port where the big ships come in… and there was tons of construction and yucky businesses and garages. It warn’t a pretty neighborhood. Crankyness ensued… but with continued walking (IN VERY hot weather) we made it around to a Lovely Cathedral with an Arab feel (Cathedral Major)… unfortunately the doors had just shut for mass. And with further walking we find the Marina area… where the fun boats and stuff are.

church stumbling

I had to laugh as we made our way around the point, because we saw these large boats and yachts moored there on the water. Remember Le Car? Well here was a yacht named… Le Yacht. How original.

Anyhow… relieved to have at least found water, we walked down there at boat’s edge and found a ferry to the plage… yay! Except it just took us to the other side of the marina. We did experience another Line Jumper and his dog Elliot. Apparently if you have a cute dog (Elliot was a Jack Russell), it allows you to sneakily cut in line.

So here we are baking in the hot southern France sun! We can’t find the beach, and we decide that despite having packed a lunch, we were stopping at a cafe to eat. And over a Pastis and a wonderful salad, we adjust our plans. No further walking to find a beach! We are going to take a boat ride. Nelson found us a place to launch from on the WiFi on his newly reclaimed iPad.

That's a church on the hill...

The boat we launch out on takes us to the island that is the setting for Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, Ile d’If. I have not read the book, but Nelson has, and it’s about a fella who escapes from the prison there. The prison actually existed and so It’s like a French version of Alcatraz. Chateau d’If (the castle on the island) has all these prison cells you can walk around in and plaques to read (if your french is good) … it’s quite interesting and the views of Marseille are gorgeous!

Marsielle from Ile d'If

So once we roamed around the island and all around the castle, we were exhausted. The boat leaves the island every 30 minutes and then takes you to another close-by island that has restaurants and shopping. We decided to pass on this excursion and head back. But there was one thing left to do before we could find our way back to the train station. We had to put our feet in the Med.

splishy splashy

Street Markets are the best!

Place de foodie

Okay… the French have it all over us with groceries! Sure, they have the local Monoprix (has groceries and everything else)… but street markets are the total best! We try with our local farmers’ markets… but the food here is simply amazing! It is so much fun gathering fresh fruits, nuts, veggies, olives, chevre (goat cheese) and even wine at the street markets. The markets are daily and they rotate from Place to Place. This one is in the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) area.

So with euros in hand, Judy and I picked up a melange of ridiculously good olives, walnut sausage (yes, they make the sausage with the walnuts right in there!… sooo tastey!)… and a loaf of artisan olive bread (with the olives right in there! so tastey!), WAY fresh garlic (that keeps the mosquitos away), a 5 euro bottle of local wine… Chateau de Vaucouleurs (which was rather good), and Oh… I’ll just show you a few pictures of some of the meals that we’ve conjured up (yes, I take pictures of our food…. for art purposes and proper photo-documentation)…

now I'm hungry...
les tournesols
olive bread, olive melange, chevre...

Into Aix… cont.

So the TGV is one of those fast trains that takes you through the gorgeous French countryside… we passed sunflower fields and a few lavender fields on the way down. It was a couple hours to the near bottom of France. We had good seats with a fine window… I managed to sleep on the train a bit… thankfully the folks around us were pretty quite except for a french gal who interrupted my snooze to ask if she could borrow Judy’s stylo (pen)… it’s a good thing Judy didn’t want to write anything, because the gal had it for quite some time (I would have provided Judy with any number of art pens I brought… and there are many!)…

When we arrived at the Aix train station, there were few cabs to service the waiting departed train passengers. When one finally showed up, the rather nice young fellow had a lead foot… and Nelson noticed that he was reaching 100 mph… or maybe that was kilometers… anyhow… 70 was the limit.

When we got to the apartment… a rather nice British couple met us… they were the property managers. They showed us up, and helped us carry up our luggage the seventy-two steps to our place on the top floor… whew! The temperature jumped 20 degrees half way up! But…. the view is gorgeous with a view of the red tiled rooftops and the St. Jean de Malte’s Church (we hear bells in the morning)…

The weather here is HOT… no fog like we are used to. We have been keeping the fans on and the windows open when we are here. Walking about is cause for exhaustion… and we keep l’eau (water) with us at all times. But, our place is wonderful, the food and local outdoor markets are another blog altogether… and we are just loving it here! More, of course to follow!

lounging takes place here...
the rooftops out our salon window

Travels to Aix…

I love the mass transit systems here in Europe.

We started out yesterday with a 6am wake-up call so we could get to our first Train ride. Sans coffee or breakfast, we got to the Embankment Tube station before 6:45. We drug our big fat American luggage down the 68 steps (Judy counted) from our London flat over to the Tube, on the Tube to Euston Station… then pulled them over to San Pancras International Train Station. Ok… by 7am, I am sweating like a pig because one, it was a workout… I’ve got a nylonish backpack strapped to my back (where Harold is strapped to the outside of), I have my computer case, and then my medium sized rolly luggage. AND two… London is experiencing a heatwave… so it was getting warm already!

Once inside (still no breakfast/coffee, mind you) we make our way to the Eurostar security line (it’s international, so it’s like the border… we put in our paper ticket into a machine and it okays it… then you go thru the scanner thingie… like airports except you don’t take off your shoes… and there is a nice person there helping you throw your luggage and belongings onto the conveyor belt. You go thru to the little window where the French guy didn’t even look at me. Then it was to the lounge until our train was at the platform. This was our 20 minutes to go stand in another line for breakfast. Cafe Nero. It had some yogurt (which by the way, London and France make the BEST YOGURT EVER! I am telling you!) in a honey flavor, we brought this onto the train, deciding that coffee should wait until our luggage was on the train (they would have coffee on the train).

So the Eurostar Train went thru the Chunnel, which was only about 20 minutes of our trek, to Paris… where we’d take the Metro to Gare d’Lyon where we’d hop the TGV to Aix. The Metro is a nicer subway train in itself, but the station is more confusing… or maybe it’s just that everything is in French. But we had a little layover there at Gare d’Lyon, which was good because we were having ticket issues. The little ticket machine wouldn’t print ours… so, we went to the ticket line… and in typical French fashion.. huge line, 2 windows open. Judy theorizes that they are so long because the French want to give you time to figure out the problem before you get to the window. Which we did…we tried another ticket machine. But not before we witnessed a “line-jumper” which we were warned about in the book, “The Sweet Life in Paris”…. it was fantastic, because this older fellow cut twice… the second time he cut in front of a woman with several small kids… uh uh… she gave that guy so much grief… yelling and elbowing him after he pushed past her to the window. She would not let him win! And it worked! He went back to the line… and people kept pushing him back further in the line until, I presume, he missed his train and gave up. Such drama francais!

I will leave this blog entry here, as it is quite long. I will pick up from Paris to Aix in the next entry.

only slightly a mess

messy watercolor palette

Well, my watercolor palette got a bit, er, messy in traveling. The colors that apparently weren’t dry ran. But luckily, it warn’t too bad. The red didn’t infiltrate, the black just jumped to the other side of the palette and the sepia mixed with the black a bit, which isn’t total disaster.

sketch for coffeeHere’s a page… ode to the Costa Bowl of coffee… I haven’t actually been doing too much watercoloring as yet. Mostly it’s just been pen. I find that we’ve just been on the move mostly… trying to fill in our time with doing stuff with not a whole lot of loitering down time. This page was done at the little Costa Italian Coffee joint at Embankment Place (under the Waterloo Bridge). It’s where we’ve been getting our joe every morning. The Baristas are friendly, Middle eastern… but I always have to ask them to repeat what they say as their accents are really thick.

London’s Toon Museum

cool logo

The Cartoon Art Museum is this charming little place on Little Russell Street, London, not far from The British Museum. It houses over 200 original cartoons and comics… including an engraving by Hogarth, Cruikshank and Searle (as in Searles’ Cats). They also had originals of Posy Simmonds (Fred the Cat), and Steve Best and a lot of stuff from the now defunct Punch Magazine. Granted, many of these names and titles I’ve not heard of, like Simon Thorp’s Mrs. Brady Old Lady, and Vern and Lettuce by Sarah McIntyre, but I love discovering new things! Comics on this side of the pond are just different… they even have their own Dennis the Menace (who looks more menacing than ours).

The museum itself is small. There’s an upstairs with random original drawings by a variety of cartoonists as well as a room for creating toons aimed more at kids, a main room which changes every-so often and a permanent gallery with the history of cartooning in Britain. The rotating show was on toys… I just missed the show on Ronald Searle, to my disappointment. But the “toy show” was impressive with animation sketches with a Wallace & Grommit or two, Famous Fred, and Morph among others.

I met a budding cartoonist who remarked on my sketching… she was from Dallas, Texas. I gave her a Squid sticker and she asked me lots of questions like, what sort of pens do I use? and how do you draw your character from the side? We chatted for a bit and I gave her a Micron 01 and a sketch of Randie. She seemed pretty happy.

The gift shop was impressive for the museum size with lots of different books on cartoons and cartooning. By this time in the afternoon, my cohorts were getting tired and restless, and I didn’t really get a good go at the books. My hope is to return to get a better look at the selection and make an informed purchase. If anything, The Ronald Searle exhibition book will come home with me.

One last thing… they didn’t let you photograph individual works at the museum, but you could take general museum photos… so I have a few posted on Flickr. Have a look.

As You Like It…

We just returned from seeing a play at The Old Vic Theatre… It was my first time seeing As You Like It by Willie Shakespeare… and, although it was quite long, I liked it.

I do funny things when I am at the THEE-AH-TER… I sketch, write and draw. I took only my sketchbook and a writing implement (Harold stayed at the flat for this one… I think he was still a bit tired from the late night previous) and I didn’t stop my scribbling activities from the play’s start to its finish. I filled up 3 or 4 pages in my Robert Bateman sketchbook. I filled those pages with quotes and a few quick character sketches and faces of theatre patrons.

And there is something intriguing about set design and art direction and costume work. The creative use of lights, sound and suggestion. A shadow can be a major tool…  the suggestion of a forest by the use of ten wooden (tree) trunks and a shadowyness  of leaves is rather genius. And changing the scene entirely with the addition of a hanging lamp and a few light pieces of furniture. I love the setting of this play with its mix of up-to-date suits (for dirty henchmen) and the 30’s inspired hobo look for the bannished Duke and his men. The Dylan-like wander/traveler Jacques. Nicely done, indeed.

The Theatre itself was a 20 minute walk from the apartment and a pleasant stroll by cafes and busking musician-types on the Waterloo Bridge. A clarinetist, a string band on a break and a latin/brazillian? band with a lively beat rounded out the lot. The play started at 7:30 and ended 3 hours later. And since we came thru a few “dodgey” South Bank areas on the way over,  on sound judgement, we chose a London cab for the trip home. The London Eye, whose bright blue lights sparkled on the Thames, contrasted the orangey-yellow of Big Ben and Parliament. Sigh… I love London.

I’ll load up more pics on Flickr tomorrow of the Cartoon Museum (OH yeah! that’s another blog entry) and the Queen’s Embankment Park (whose musical selection today was a Jazz Band from “home”)…

Jet lag is a drag…

Okay, it’s 7:45 California time… and its like 4 in the morning here. It’s warm… and I’m wide awake.

...that's port he's indulging in. This is a "blackmail" photo for sure.

The apartment here is just up from a swinging place called Gordon’s Wine Bar. It’s a little hole in the wall… you go downstairs into a cave-like place.. and there’s barrels and all manor of wines, ports, sherries and the like. But part of this establishment is this outdoor corridor that runs along the Queen’s Embankment Park. It’s got barrel tables and Londonites and tourists alike buy their bottle/carafe/glass of wine and sit all along this corridor. It’s a very happening place. The clinking of glasses and hum of the crowd is quite nice… except for the “F-this and that” girl who was somewhat irksome.

… expression is the conveyor belt of art… or is it the other way around?