Sunday, September 15, 2019

Then and Now

Omaha Beach looking west

Our last nights in France were spent in Normandy so we could visit the D-Day sites at Omaha Beach and Utah Beach. Fittingly this happened just six weeks after the 75th Anniversary celebration of the Allied assault that changed the course of World War ll. From our base in the gothic town of Bayeux we drove 15 bucolic miles to Omaha Beach. We arrived in early morning as a squall blew in off the channel. For nearly an hour the rain came down in buckets and wind drove the torrent in horizontal sheets.

Sulkies at the surf line

We donned our foul weather gear and I ran toward the beach. I saw two sulkies cantering in the foam. It was an incongruous scene that looked like it could be a hundred years ago. We guessed that the riders were training their horses in the soft sand. A sulky is an ultra-light horse drawn carriage without a body but with a simple seat for the driver. It's most often used in harness racing today but originated in England the early 1800s as a vehicle for country doctors making their rounds. The term sulky is derived from the notion that the single passenger buggy was for folks who prefer their own company.

Harness racing in the United States was brought from England in the mid-19th century and is a popular sport in Normandy to this day. The Prix de Sainte-Marie du Mont in nearby Cherbourg and the Prix de Normandie in Honfleur are races in late spring that draw thousands of French fans.

From a bunker above Omaha Beach

Beside a concrete bunker with a sweeping view of the landing area

The brooding weather made the scene more poignant. One could imagine jumping from a landing craft into the boiling surf and slogging through chest high water to reach the beach only to face German guns on the hillside that overlooks the strand. Gun emplacements, part of General Erwin Rommel's Atlantic Wall that stretched from the Cape of Norway to the Spanish border, provided a commanding view of Omaha Beach. It was a shooting gallery where machine guns and heavy artillery slaughtered 238 soldiers and wounded 2,000 more on that singular day. Yet when you consider the German's advantage of fortifications on high ground and the Allies’ absolute lack of cover it seems a miracle that so few were lost of the 32,500 soldiers who attacked Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. The scale of the onslaught is unimaginable.

Monument commemorating the First Army Division's casualties

By the time we walked up a grassy slope to a memorial obelisk the sun began to break through the gray and we looked down on the serene beach. Then we walked west along the crest of the hill toward the American Cemetery, past cows grazing in a pasture with the steeple of the church in Colleville sur Mer in the distance. I can't imagine a more tranquil scene. The irony of our sunswept July 20, 2019 and the cacophony and carnage that visited this place on D-Day was wrenching. It was hard to see this radiant place as the killing zone it was.

We’ve all seen photographs of the marble crosses perfectly set on the manicured lawns of the American Cemetery. They don’t do it justice. You have to be there to feel its power. If something manmade has achieved perfection, this may be it. This resting place of 9,400 American fighting men and women reaches into your soul and assures you'll never forget what happened in this hallowed place. It's pristine order lies in such contrast to D-Day that it's the perfect tribute. I am awed.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Faces from Keremma

Jan Norsetter from Verona, Wisconsin
Ellen Howard of San Francisco

I photographed the painters in Brittany as they created their art on the beach in Keremma, in the villages of Plousecat, Brignagon, Moguériec, Roscoff and on the charming Isle de Batz. Out of many, many photographs these were worth sharing. Three of the artists wanted professional head shots and I didn’t step up. I'm a little embarrassed that I didn't but I was doing what I wanted to do each day. I'm like that. I was governed by whim and setting up proper portrait sessions wasn’t something I wanted to do. If we convene again I’ll come prepared to make it happen, perhaps put up a backdrop, some lights and photograph the whole crew. Or not.

Houston's Krystal Brown

Vared Pasternak, an Israeli now living in Miami, was the most insistence so I did do something approaching portraiture when the sunset provided its soft glow as it dropped into the sea at 10PM.

Vared Pasternak from Miami

Richard Lindenberg from Marin County

The others are candids. Sometimes my victims caught me in the act like with Jan from Wisconsin up top. Other times I was supremely stealthy. All but the one are of my American compatriots. Below is an elegant Keremma woman who brought her family to our show and sale for the benefit of local arts programs.

Keremma gentry

Sunday, September 01, 2019

La Valenciana

A lot happened fifty years ago. Much of it bad. The late sixties were a period of tumult and change. They were the defining time of my generation. I’ve written about the early years of my marriage in Los Angeles and a career just starting to blossom, of watching Bobby Kennedy speak at the Hollywood Bowl the night before he was assassinated and of picking up the LA Times the next morning to see a picture from the Ambassador Hotel of Rosie Grier, the Rams lineman, holding RFK’s head in his huge hands. And being in Chicago during the riots at the Democratic Convention stays with me. Innocence was gone. A pointless war continued and the nation came apart.

But on a trivial note as I was running Thursday morning, it dawned on me that the La Valenciana guitar I bought in Tijuana was fifty years old. Realizations happen a lot when I run. And since I run at the speed of walk, I have time for unimportant thoughts. It’s a good thing the old axe came to mind since I had no idea what to write about this week. Felíz Cumpleaños, mi guitarra.

Mi guitarra que tiene 50 anos.
El logo de 1969

One weekend in 1969 we drove from our house in Van Nuys to Tijuana. Buying the guitar is all that I remember of the trip. Avenida Revolución was chock-a-block with shops selling the likes of switch blade knives, cheap pottery and Oso Negro vodka. But there was one reputable guitar store amidst the tchotchkes. I know that because it’s where I spent the entire afternoon playing classical guitars, the ones with nylon strings. I may have been too enthusiastic because I popped the bridge on guitar numero seis while playing La Bamba. Understandably the proprietor was not pleased when I broke the guitar, but he still let me play guitarra after guitarra till the La Valenciana stole my heart like a ten-dollar hooker. I’m guessing it cost $35. 

Today Paracho guitars run from $100 to $10,000 as the small city evolves from making low-end consumer instruments to world-class guitars handmade by one of its the 2,000 luthiers. Reportedly half of Paracho's economy comes from guitar making. High end custom guitars can take more than 75 hours to complete. Many craftsmen are fourth and fifth generation guitar makers who oddly enough don’t play. In fact, there is no significant music culture in the town. Which is strange.

I knew a little about Paracho’s fabled guitars when I bought the La Valenciana. In 1960 during my ill-fated attempt to play in folk music’s big arena I ran into singer and guitarist Travis Edmundson on the Sunset Strip. Travis, of the recently disbanded folk duo Bud and Travis, told me that he had all his guitars made in Paracho and that he had his favorite luthier there copy the legendary Ramirez guitar from Spain using the same Alp Spruce for the top and Honduran Mahogany for the sides and bottom. He claimed the Mexican version was the equal of the Ramirez and was a quarter of the price. That may still be the case today.

John Ellsworth, my singing partner for six years, and I covered all of Bud and Travis’s songs and had opened for Travis in Phoenix after he went solo. Many of his sets included Mexican songs he had learned across the border from his hometown of Nogales, Arizona. Among them was Malaguena Salerosa that he called the most beautiful love song in the world. Naturally, it became part of my act when I still had a falsetto. Like John and me Travis had attended the University of Arizona though a decade earlier. His kind of playing required a classical guitar a nylon string guitar for its percussive tone and easy action. Hence my Goya G-7 which was stolen from Lynn Quayle’s Triumph Spitfire in 1965 and the La Valenciana that I bought in Tijuana in 1969.

Inspired by these memories I picked up the guitar Friday. Even played a little. It was the first time in years. I often joke that, “I play once a decade whether I need to or not.” I was more than rusty and the little guitar showed its age. It was tinny sounding and had an annoying buzz on the A string at the second fret. I’ll restring the guitar and see if that helps. I have two unopened packs of strings that could be twenty years old themselves. One set, the one I’ll probably use, are La Bella Folk Singers which were always my favorite for their ring and brightness.

La guitarra ahora
El logo hoy

Then I Googled Paracho and La Valenciana and to my amazement the guitar maker is alive and well. Little has changed. The picture of one of their guitars on their website is very similar. The logotype is unchanged though the owner today is Casa La Valenciana and it was La Casa Veerkamp half a century ago.

I think I’ll start playing again. Maybe reconstruct my ten song set from 1962. That material is so old it'll be new. It’s been on my mind for years. I’m feeling the need for a pursuit that stirs my soul. Change it up. I'd even consider a trip to the Mothership but Paracho's in the heart of cartel country and the police department is known to be complicit at best.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Going nowhere fast

Longhorn, Texas, David Michael Kennedy, 2016

Two weeks ago, Cris Pulos, Terry Thompson and I spent 2-1/2 amazing hours with renowned photographer David Michael Kennedy at his studio and home in the village of El Rito an hour or so southwest of Taos. I wish that Bill Davis, the other member of our monthly breakfast foursome, had been able to share the experience. He would have loved it. Our audience with the famed platinum-palladium printer was the result of Cris’s persistent efforts. I know there was a lot of back and forth to make it happen. It sure was worth the effort. Thanks, man.

Since I visited David’s studio in 2016, a visit during which I purchased a small framed platinum print of a longhorn steer, he has expanded his workplace and added one of the most impressive darkrooms any of us has seen. We had some serious studio envy.

The gallery space within his studio was as expansive as any in a major city and there were at least seventy framed photographs on the walls, each a masterpiece. If the test of great photographs made by a great photographer is that you know whose work it is from across the room, David Michael Kennedy passes with flying colors. Simply seeing that extraordinary display was worth the price of admission. That we sat in easy chairs and enjoyed two hours of wide-ranging talk about the state of photography today; David’s personal journey from the go-to rock and roll and album cover photographer in New York; his self-taught mastery of platinum-palladium printing; and a smattering of our long but modest careers was the bonus. He could not have been more engaging and open. He said we were always welcome and I intend to take him up on that.

Bob Dylan, 1985, David Michael Kennedy

Theories about the decline of fine art photography were an overarching theme as they always are when devoted photographers get together. In fact, no discussion among photographers is complete unless it eventually goes “there.” Name recognition notwithstanding each of the four of us were saddened by our star in the photographic galaxy, and that recognition and sales have been fleeting and heading toward nil.

On that subject David leaned in to say, “I’m confused.” He could have said “disappointed” or “disillusioned.”

David told us about recent shows in Los Angeles and Manhattan. These were big time affairs attended by A-Listers. The well-heeled gallery owners flew him to both cities, put him up in four-star hotels, bought $4,000 dinners for eight at Michelin starred restaurants and he came away with a case of indigestion. In LA he sold exactly zero and in NYC “two small prints.” How does that work and what does it say about the viability of a self-supporting life as a fine art photographer when David  Michael Kennedy’s work doesn’t sell? It says, as I wrote in a letter to a floundering writer-photographer friend, that “fine art photography as a business proposition is a fool’s errand” and that “financial success is damn near impossible.” My friend captains a pilot boat in the frigid waters off Rockland, Maine in the middle of the night to make ends meet. Good thing he loves it.

David suggested that the art business in general is in the tank, that it’s broader than just photography. Millennials don’t buy art. They buy experiences. They’ll safari in Kenya or trek to Machu Picchu but won’t buy a $500 photograph. At least that’s my theory, a theory supported by the fact that photography workshops are moving off-shore and are more about new places, cultures and cuisines than learning skills.

And everybody is a photographer. Most folks think they can do what we're doing after fifty years of practice. Everybody has a social media outlet for their work. Instant gratification is there for the taking. Even the compositionally impaired can grab a good image from time to time. It’s like golf. The occasional par keeps a hacker in the game.

David related a story. He was visiting his Taos gallery, since folded but that’s another story, and overheard a besotted young gentleman contemplating the purchase of one his prints. He knew that the youngster was in a new relationship with his girlfriend by the way he swaggered. David described the photograph as a classic Rio Grande Gorge vista. The dude debated whether to buy or not to buy until the girl told him, “You can do that, babe. You don’t have to buy it” Naturally, he decided that he could and another sale was buried in the graveyard of broken expectations. I asked DMK how he could hold his tongue. He shrugged.

On the plus side there was a modicum of comfort knowing we were in good company when a photographer of David’s stature was struggling to sell his work, too. I offered an analogy to the restaurant business and to the adage, “Misery loves company.” In my restaurant life I would commiserate with my competitors when sales were down. We’d complain to each other about how bad business was and I’d take heart. So, it isn’t just me.

But I countered the misery loves company excuse by saying that even when you and most of your peers are in a death spiral somebody else is kicking ass. Somebody is killing it when you're dying. You have to figure what does work. I’m giving that advice to myself more than anybody else. My good friend John Farnsworth suggested that you need to identify what everybody else is doing and do the opposite. I'm not entirely sure about that angle. Maybe you just have do it differently and better. If they like it enough, they’ll buy it. However, that premise leads to the abyss of self-doubt if you’re not selling.

Ultimately, we identified digital photography and social media as the assassins of our beloved art form. It’s been made too easy and this is from a person who usually has no problem with fast or easy. And a dope who doesn’t know an f-stop from a traffic stop can reach an instant audience. David Michael Kennedy told us, “I hate easy.” Or more accurately he has a love hate relationship with easy. He hates himself for secretly liking speed and ease. The man spent fifteen years learning and mastering the painstaking platinum-palladium process. He’s one of the best in THE WORLD. But being a tried and true process guy, he just might like the journey as much as the destination. I do not suffer that malady.

He showed us a recent portrait made with his Sony 7 series digital camera albeit equipped with a Leica lens from a film camera. He boasted, “I don’t think you can tell that this is digital print from a digital camera.” We could not. It looked like rest of his incredible work to us. But I suspect that every time he looks at that photograph it screams, “digital.”

Water Wagon, Taos, 2019, Steve Immel

That leaves us with the question of where to go from here? What will work and are we willing to do it? One answer is do what you do and do it for yourself. We’ve already stipulated that doing the same old thing will lead nowhere but if self-satisfaction is enough, go for it. I wish liking my own stuff was enough but it isn’t. Most of us need validation of some kind, be it recognition or recompense. I’ve been asked a hundred times if I want fame or money. I’ve always danced around that question by answering, “l'll take recognition. If I get that sales will follow.” I still kinda sorta think that. On the other hand, I’ve been in dozens of juried shows across the country and have a chest full of ribbons to show for it.  But I have yet to sell a photograph in any of those shows.

About ten years ago I set aside the goal of making money from fine art photography. Now I'd be happy to pay for my habit. I trimmed costs. I stopped advertising. I still can’t break even though I came close last year because I shot a wedding for $2,400 that works out to an average hourly wage of $10.

Is there commercial work I'm willing to do? It'd probably be portraits. Or does a person do it for her or his self? Get back to me on that.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Rhythm and Light at Wilder Nightingale

Ebb and flow
Wagon  Ruts

When Peggy and I sat down with Rob Nightingale to plan our third two person show at Wilder Nightingale Fine Art we had no particular theme in mind and hoped something would pop up as we tossed ideas around. The only thing I knew for sure is that I didn't want to be bound by subject matter or geography. Couldn't do that if I tried this year. Peggy on the other hand would be showing work with a decidedly southwestern bent and a strong emphasis on New Mexico. How to reconcile those countervailing approaches was a challenge. But as the sage once said, "If you can't rationalize it dazzle them with baloney." And that, dear friends, is where I shine.

The only givens were that we would both show a dozen or so new works and that they can't have been shown before. And mine would all be toned black and white for which I am entirely unknown. Already you can tell I'm writing in my wise ass voice.

The conversation meandered on and all I wanted was no boundaries. Finally, Rob asked, "What should we call the show." We agreed that the title would begin with Immel + Immel like the ones in 2015 and 2017. Then it dawned on us that this was becoming a biannual affair and maybe we were developing an Immel + Immel brand. One hopes. The inaugural event in 2015 was called Immel + Immel "Monument" to celebrate the designation of the new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument which wraps around Taos from the Orilla Verde on the Rio Grande on the south and west and north to the Colorado border and east to the John Dunn Bridge in Arroyo Hondo.

The 2017 soiree was Immel + Immel "Our New Mexico." I'm guessing that was about the Land of Enchantment.

Guardian of Santa Barbara

Which leads us to Immel + Immel "Rhythm and Light." What does that even mean? Got no clue. Rob and I just thought it sounded cool. One can weave a narrative that Rhythm and Light refers to the patterns, flow and energy that are part of any successful painting or photograph. And that the juxtaposition of light and dark provide the key shapes and the inherent design of the art. If that's too much artspeak for you, too bad. Or as Peggy writes, "We wanted to have the work relate but not necessarily in terms of subject matter." She adds, "We are both taken with the effect of light on our subjects in terms of color, values, key and design relationships. Both of us feel that the mood of the piece is determined by the qualities of the light."

Fall on the Cimarron

"Whether in nature as exemplified by rows of crops in a pasture, trees on a mountainside or the facade of a building punctuated by doors and windows, patterns and rhythm create compositional interest."

Whew. She's even better at tripping the light fantastic than I am.

According to Peggy she's been working in small series of three or four paintings that might be subject oriented or might be about color and design. She may explore a color theme like a complimentary purple-yellow scheme in several pieces, for example. But her work continues to be of the Southwest and especially near home in Taos. She is particularly interested in the relationship of man to nature and is known for her mastery of architecture in the landscape. Recently much of her work has focused on the sky, clouds and the light patterns that the sun creates in the clouds. That's evident in Ebb and Flow, Guardian of Santa Barbara and Solitude shown here.

Clarkdale Store
Water Wagon

My interests hew in that direction, too. I am drawn to vestiges of man's fleeting presence in the natural world. The abandoned and forgotten resonate with me. Always have. There's a sweet melancholy to it. In this show there are examples of that kind of landscape photography but also street photography that intersects with environmental portraiture. And, finally, there's some more experimental work that's more abstracted and that employs darker tones, vignetting and applied blur. I'm fascinated by the the ethereal and timeless look this creates. Water Wagon above is an example of that new direction. From this series will be a cluster of 4"x6" prints matted and framed to 8"x10."

All of my photographs will be black and white. That's been my playground for more than fifty years.

Immel + Immel: Rhythm and Light opens on Friday, August 23 and runs through September 15. The opening reception will be held from 5pm to 7pm, Saturday, August 31. We hope to see you there.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Lighthouse Keepers

Des Peintres Américaines

As guests of Keremma resident Pierre Guidetti, the eleven visiting painters were treated more like luminaries than tourists from the United States. Pierre’s imprimatur gave the group access to otherwise inaccessible sites and the warm welcome they received from the local gentry would not have happened without his caring hand. Merci, Pierre.

The Bretons showed real appreciation for the artists and often watched as they painted on the beaches and in the villages of the Finistére, meaning “Land’s End. And Land’s End it is. The Finistére is northwestern most corner of France which is framed by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Celtic Sea to the north.

Le Phare de Moguériec

Most notable among these connections was the opportunity for the group to participate in a benefit paint-out to help fund renovations of the decaying lighthouse in the fishing village of Port de Moguériec, population 400. In 2018 the Interregional Directorate of the North Atlantic Channel announced a plan to decommission and demolish the beacon but the townspeople, fisherfolk all, treasure their lighthouse and are committed to preserving it as a symbol of their seafaring heritage and of the resilience of their quaint town and its picturesque harbor. They have been given a two year stay to raise funds to rehabilitate the landmark at the request of the Save the Lighthouse Association of Moguériec. Bon chance.

Jan Norsetter above the tiny harbor

When Pierre asked if the painters would be willing to paint in Port de Moguériec and to donate the proceeds of the sales of their paintings to save the lighthouse all eleven gave a resounding ‘oui’ to the proposition. And so, began what would be a highlight of the visit to Brittany for the artists who were dubbed The American Painters and who enjoyed a measure of notoriety including a spread in the local daily. The title of the article read, “Des Peintres Américaines Au Chevet du Phare de Moguériec.” Which translates to “The American Painters at the bedside of the Moguériec lighthouse.” Hmm.

The Lighthouse in living color

The lighthouse was designed and built by Gustave Eiffel in about 1861 when Eiffel was just 29. So, its importance exceeds its diminutive size. Just 33-feet tall it’s little more a prefabricated cast iron cylinder painted white with a dark green lamp housing. It is not prepossessing to say the least. As we neared the village in early evening, we spied a small two-color protrusion on the horizon and Peggy declared, “That must be the lighthouse.” To which I sniffed, “That can’t be it. That’s not a lighthouse.” There is no house and there is no light.

Au contraire, mes amis. The modest structure in the distance was the alleged lighthouse and would be the subject of our crowd funding efforts that memorable evening.

We arrived at 7pm and were greeted by the mayor and Arnaud Lampire the president of the Save the Lighthouse Association. Both of spoke about the beloved landmark and the town’s mission to return it to its mid-19th century glory. The town’s share of the 540,000 euro cost to renovate the “phare” is the princely sum of 140,000 euro. My mouth is still agape. That’s 350 euro for every man, woman and child in Moguériec. The painters listened to Monsieur Lampire as they sat on the seawall for photographs before spreading out along the trim harbor at low tide, Peggy, Krystal, Paul and Cynthia choose the narrow beach; Richard, Vered and Jan opted for the breakwater to the east; Tia, Ellen, Nancy and Lori painted from above the beach.

Vered Pasternak and Richard Lindenberg
Peggy Immel and the boys
Krystal Brown at the easel

As the orange sky turned slate gray all the paintings were finished and the mayor invited us for drinks at a vest pocket bar just off the cove. What a treat. We all knew how special it was.  Pronouncing the town’s peculiar name was a struggle for everybody so Monsieur Lampire led us in three rousing choruses of “moh GUER ee ack, moh GUER ee ack, mo GUER ee ack.” He jabbed his forefinger at us each time we came to the syllable “Guér to emphasize the accent over the e. Then came a mayoral oration in French as translated by English Bob who came to the town as a guest worker forty years ago, married the lovely Geneviève and never left. Earlier at the harbor he told me he came from England’s industrial north between Manchester and Liverpool. I asked if he had been accepted as a local after all those years. He laughed, “Probably not but Geneviéve’s family goes back centuries so they may let me stay.” He pointed out their house. “It’s the second one in. You should come by for a drink.” I didn’t and regret it. Bob and I would have become mates.

Bob brought Geneviéve to the thank you soiree and the first thing she said was, “We were waiting for you.” with the hint of a smile. I began to wonder how it would be spend a year in Moguériec and to tell the story of life in a hamlet by the sea, of the pounding waves against the jetty, the boxes and spinvers setting out in heavy weather to catch Red Mullet, Sole and Turbot in the open sea and to harvest scallops, oysters and mussels from the shallow waters of Siecke Bay.

Beers with Arnaud Lampire

The raucous thank you celebration at the bar ended with a toast to the American Painters and with Krystal Brown fending off a shoulder rub from an attentive admirer. She kept saying, "No. I'm married. The elderly Romeo responded, "But you're not wearing your wedding ring." Krystal told him, "I'm still married so stop." Beneath the raucous laughter and the clinking glasses I could hear a disgusted Moguériec matron tell her companion "What an asshole." Apparently, some words are universal.

For you sporting types Moguériec is a surfing mecca known for its big rollers and, more impressively, is the site of the World Periwinkle Spitting Contest. There’s a sport you don’t hear much about. The periwinkle, as you know, is a sea snail the size of your thumbnail that's also called a whelk.

I do wonder if the goal of the spitting is volume or distance. And, either way, what’s the world record?

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Keremma on my mind

Chez Pierre in Keremma

Two weeks removed from beautiful Brittany we are still basking in the glow of our time in the coastal hamlet of Keremma where we spent carefree days painting and photographing on the beach, in the dunes and in the glorious towns of the Finistère. We were captivated by the pastel tones and soft light of this pastoral region where artichokes, onions and potatoes flourish and where shellfish are harvested for savory Moules et Frites and briny oysters on the half shell. This part of Brittany is off the tourist trail and we were the only Americans we saw. It was bliss.

Ellen Howard, Paul Kratter and Peggy Immel at Chez Pierre

We are grateful that Richard Lindenberg included us in his list of potential housemates and even more grateful that we said yes within five minutes of being asked. Sometimes it pays to be impulsive. There were twelve slots available to share Pierre Guidetti’s country home in Keremma and, according to Richard, all the beds were taken within 24 hours. We are so lucky.

Pierre’s house is a handsome three story affair built in typical Breton style and, while a relatively new iteration, it has the country estate esthetic that abounds in the area and blended seamlessly with the palatial residences in the neighborhood, a neighborhood of 2,500 cousins according to local lore. It seems that a distant forebear of Pierre’s bought the land and established a commune in which only family members can own the property. There are no commercial services to be found in Keremma save a campground and a windsurfing school. What you will find is the world’s largest family compound. I exaggerate to make the point. As guests of Pierre we were greeted like long lost relatives. Our reception couldn’t have been warmer.

Richard Lindenberg and Paul Kratter at the Saturday market in Plousecat
Duck sausage among others

For a supermarket and other services it’s a ten minute drive to Plousecat, a charming town of 3,800. At the center of town sits the 15th century Les Halles, a timber framed open air market structure and the neo-Gothic Eglise Saint Pierre de Plousecat from 1870. The Saturday Market cannot be missed. The selection of cheeses and sausages is breathtaking. The roast chicken and local produce induce gasps and giggles. I am very hungry.

Ellen Howard painting on the dunes above the beach at low tide

Every day was perfection with daytime temperatures in the low 70s and sweater weather in the evening when it stayed light till 10:30. It made for long days that started with a 7am run on the beach and ended after painting till the sun fell into the sea. I was so enthralled that I lived that life for eight days with nary a nap. I’ve been examining that phenomenon, how it is that one has so much more energy when stimulated by new and special places.

Peggy Immel, Krystal Brown, Vered Pasternak, Ellen Howard, Jan Norsetter, Lori McNee and Tia Kratter above the beach at 10PM
Guevroc Chapel

The dunes above the beach were riven with paths which led from Keremma to Brignagon Plage in the west and Plousecat to the east. Much to my surprise I saw more runners in a day that I’ve seen in Taos in, well, ever. Nestled in the shallow dunes sat the 17th century Eglise Guevroc. The first room in the church may even go back to the seventh century as told by Jacques Rosseau, Pierre’s older cousin. To be steeped in that kind of history is a thing of awe.

I can't recommend Brittany enough if you want leisurely days, gentle people and caressing beauty.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Premiere Class

After 24 hours of blighted air travel punctuated by a cancelled flight from Paris to Newark and a three- hour ground delay in Minneapolis we are back in Taos worse for wear but ready for our next adventure. That’s 24 hours of no sleep followed by a three hour snooze in Pueblo and the short jaunt home Tuesday morning. We celebrated our survival with dinner at Common Fire after which I fell into a deep sleep on my back on a propped-up pillow. You know I was cooked since I’ve never been able to sleep on my back. Never Ever.

The flights back to the US of A were Air France from De Gaulle to Minneapolis and United from the Twin Cities to Denver. It was a study in contrasts. While the 2-1/2 hour UA flight was functional the 8-1/2-hour Paris to Minneapolis flight was almost elegant. Even in the 48th row, the last one next to the latrine. We were served two hot meals and complementary wine and beer by a stylish French flight attendant who was the epitome of warmth and grace. How, we wondered, could the Gallic air carrier achieve such a level of excellence, a whole different standard of service than its American counterparts? Part of it, I suggest, is understanding what excellence is and not settling for mere functionality. I further submit that the pursuit of excellence of this magnitude starts at the top and has to permeate the corporate culture. I knew that the airline was nationalized after World War Two and that the French government had set out to make the operation a symbol of French style and class. It said as much in a short film I watched during the flight that connected the emergence of Air France with the golden age of cinema from the 1945 into the mid-sixties. At first, I surmised that Air France was still owned or subsidized by the government and was not held to the profitmaking standard of an American airline. After the war the French government remade the rustic, moribund pre-war carrier into a flying demonstration of French savoir faire. But that rationale was dashed when I found that Air France is owned by a Franco-Dutch holding company which has to make its numbers like any other for-profit endeavor. So, I have to chalk Air France’s lofty performance to having higher service standards and a total commitment achieving them.

Which brings to mind the amazing Pullman Hotel at Charles de Gaulle where we spent our last night. First, we were met by a delightful host, much more than a desk clerk, who removed us from a crush of United Arab Emirates flight crews checking in and took us to a freestanding podium with three terminals. She quickly found our reservation and after checking us in told us about the hotel’s amenities and gave us a walking tour to the bar, the restaurant, the elevator to fitness center and elevator to our fifth-floor room. We had to consciously disengage with Celeste or I think she would have led us upstairs and unpacked our bags. I’m a card-carrying service guy, a product of forty years and fifty new restaurants in my career, and I was dumbstruck by the level of attention we received in mid-priced chain hotel. I might have expected this standard of service at the Four Seasons, but this was a 150-euro hotel next to an airport. All this for the price of a Hampton Inn in Fresno.

Dinner was a fine dining affair and after a sketchy few minutes trying to get served, we settled down for a fine meal well that included my smoky Octopus entrée and Peggy's rare Ahi Tuna sautéed in olive oil. I’ve eaten a lot of squid, I do love it grilled, but this was my first octopus. It was surprisingly meaty and sweet. At my age I don’t get say “my first” of anything. So, it that was a treat on all kinds of levels.

But the coup de grace at the Pullman was the breakfast buffet the next morning. The spread was epic and compared favorably to a $60 a person Sunday buffet in Manhattan. And, by the way, it was included in the 150 Euro price. There was fresh squeezed OJ and mango juice and you could squeeze your own from selection of other fruits. There was a breathtaking array of meats and cheese, so very French, half a dozen hot entrees, the usual bouquet of scrumptious pastries and a cook to order egg station. I know I’m forgetting half of the Pullman’s earthly delights, but you get the idea. The breakfast was monumental.

As we checked out, we received a text message that our flight to Newark was cancelled and that we needed to go to the United Airlines counter in terminal 2E to reschedule. I told the woman who checked us out at the Pullman, half joking and half hoping, that we might be back for another night. It was that good and certainly the best $200 stay we’ve ever had.

Next week after I’ve reviewed the 3,000 images I have from Brittany and Normandie I’ll pony up a travelogue from our two weeks in Northern France. I am seriously hooked.