Saturday, September 26, 2009

Home again in Idyllwild...

Now that I've been home from France for almost a week, things have settled down to a routine and I finally have some time to blog again. Amazing how a simple plane trip from France to Michigan and then California can take the wind out of your sails, so to speak. It probably took about four days for me to get over the jet-lag this time.
Since the laundry and housecleaning and bill-paying chores are now behind me, it's time to think of the future. In just a couple of weeks I'll be traveling again to teach workshops for Patti Bullard at Wired Up Beads in the Grapevine, Texas area.
On Friday, Oct. 9, I'm teaching my Biker Chick Bangles workshop (pictured above) from 10 am to 1 pm, followed by the Embellished Copper Washer Bracelet (pictured below) from 2 to 5 pm.
On Saturday, Oct. 10, I'm teaching my Etruscan Spiral Necklace workshop (pictured below) from 10 am to 5 pm; this necklace includes the use of copper tubing from the hardware store, lots of forging and texturing with hammers, working with wire to make a big-spiral pendant, twisted wire jump rings, and more. It's a fun class, suitable for beginners. You'll finish your necklace in class.
Finally, on Sunday, Oct. 11, I'm teaching my popular Ethnic Coin Necklace workshop (pictured below) from 10 am to 5 pm. This is a great class: learn to work with heavy-gauge wire, twisted wire jump rings, forging and texturing methods, and riveting! Very cool, lots of fun, and everyone leaves the class with a finished necklace to wear.
I hope that you can join us! Whether you live in Texas or must come from nearby states, you are welcome to join the workshops taking place in just a couple of weeks. Contact Patti Bullard for details:
If you can't make it, however, most of the projects pictured are stepped out in close-up detail in my newest DVD, Ethnic Style Jewelry Workshop. This popular DVD offers 3-1/2 hours of instruction at $24.95, a bargain for sure. To view a FREE clip from this DVD, click here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Foggy Day in Provence

Our departure from Provence on Sept. 17 was eerily beautiful. A deep fog bank visited in the early-morning hours, drenching the countryside with moisture. As we drove to the airport in Nice, the sunlight slanted through dark forests of trees up to their lower limbs in white, puffy clouds. Summer was definitely over; Fall has come to Provence.
Just before we departed for the airport, I was able to shoot a few photos of my students' jewelry. Here is a beautiful collection made by Audrey (above)...
And these beautiful pieces were made by Corinne (above).I was very taken with Martha's creative fibula pin (above). Beautiful!
Once in Nice, I had the afternoon to explore. So I took a taxi from my hotel to "old town," a bit disappointing really, rather touristy but OK. Since I'd had enough shopping, I decided to walk back to my hotel. Here's a shot of a building facade taken along the way... they aren't all this beautiful, but some of the buildings are quite striking.
It took an hour and a half for me to walk (briskly, I might add) to my hotel, which I reached just before dark. The exercise felt very good! But I was a little bit sad at the thought that I would be leaving my beloved France so soon.
I know that I will return someday. Until then, all I can do is say THANK YOU again to dear Anna Horn, my generous hostess in Provence, and look forward to my next adventure in Europe. In fact, I will be teaching a workshop series in Cortona, Italy Sept. 1-11, 2010. If you are interested in joining my group of student travelers, click here for more information.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Last Supper in Provence

We've celebrated our last day of workshops and our last supper together in Provence, my students and I. A more delightful bunch of girls it would be hard to find.
Pictured from left: Martha, Anna (our hostess), Cindy, Tia, Claire, Audrey, and Corinne.
Here's a picture of our "last supper": a real middle-eastern delicacy prepared by Tia, with some help from Anna. Both have lived in the middle east and have lots of experience putting on a spread like this.
The salad was amazing, and I don't even like parsley!
Mmmm hummus! Swimming in olive oil, as it should be. So very French!
Here's our chef, Tia. Terrible photo of her because I was trying to catch her likeness before she darted out of view! Thank you, Tia, for a delicious dinner and a lot of laughs over the past week.
We spent Monday-Wednesday working on our jewelry, and tomorrow morning I'll photograph as much of it as I can to upload later. We're on our way to Nice in the morning, and on Friday I'll catch a plane to the States.
I will miss France so much, as well as the terrific girls who shared this amazing experience with me. But it will be nice to get back home as well, where I no doubt have piles of work awaiting...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

L'isle sur la Sorgue flea market

Five of us piled into the car today to attend the flea market (antiques and second-hand items) in L'isle sur la Sorgue.
This town is famous for its market, first organized in 1966 by a small group of families. Today the event attracts a large crowd; even in September, we had to park quite a distance from all the action and hoof-it into town. Had we visited during the summer months, I don't know if we would have found parking at all.
You'll find the usual assortment of used, vintage items, farming utensils, lace and fabrics, towels and table cloths, jewelry, African beads and artifacts, and genuine antiques as well.
I really enjoy attending flea markets in other countries because they offer an honest glimpse into the lives of local families. Their personal history is laid out on the table for all to see... and you can take the opportunity to pick up some very nice articles for souvenirs or artwork.
If you have the opportunity to visit France in the future, I hope you'll take time during your vacation to check out a local flea market--if for no other reason than to watch the people, an international crowd. You can also practice your French, try bargaining with the vendors, and taste the local specialties.
L'isle sur la sorge has over 200 art galleries and antique stores and some great restaurants and outdoor bistros with live bands. The town plays host to two international fairs (Easter and Aug. 15) each year.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bonnie Bonnieux

We took a break from jewelry making today, first to shop the street market in Apt, one of the biggest, oldest farmer's markets in France.
Vendors sold fresh breads and pastries, stinky cheeses, wine, fruit, sausages, and lavender cookies. We also found beautiful hand-embroidered scarves, jewelry, African beads, lavender sachets, and other trinkets. The market in Apt is not too commercialized yet for the tourists--locals shop here for their needs, too--so I really enjoyed it. But our destination for the day was Bonnieux.
After a picnic al fresco (the lemon-merangue tarts were a big hit), we drove to this lovely little hill town, which faces La Coste. Since we arrived at 2:30 pm, everything was shut! The French like long lunches, and between the hours of noon and 2 to 3 pm you can count on all the local galleries, shops and other business establishments to be closed.
No matter; we just took a seat in the shade and enjoyed a quiet moment in France. (Pictured above: Anna (left) and Claire).
By 3 pm, the galleries we were interested in had opened and it really was fascinating for me to see the prices that French artists can command. I couldn't afford even a small painting, so I loaded up on postcards of the artists' work.
Some of the girls found treasures of another kind: beautiful hand-knitted scarves and shawls (pricey, but very special), pottery, handmade soaps...
After a quick gelato, we drove to Roussillon but didn't spend much time there. We headed home by about 5:30, and watched as dark clouds built up in the sky. Soon enough, there were fat raindrops on the windshield, which we were happy to see--it's been so dry here in the south of France for so long, any amount of rain is more than welcome.
It wasn't coming down very hard, so Anna decided to take a detour on our way home to visit an angora sheep farm. We actually had the opportunity to pet a few sheep and feel their silky, curly coats, but naturally our objective was shopping!
After buying some incredibly beautiful hand-knit items and skeins of wool from the farmer's wife (I didn't, only because I already have three huge boxes of yarn at home and really don't need any more), we headed for home. It was raining hard now; thunder cracked and rumbled overhead, and lightning strikes lit up an eery sky. A dramatic homecoming.
After a few power outages, candles were lit and we enjoyed a delicious supper of leftovers and tomato salad prepared by Tia. With plenty of wine to wash it down of course... this is France, after all.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Another day in paradise...

Here in Provence, it's just another day in paradise.
We awakened to a peaches-and-cream sky and sun-kissed lavender fields, breakfasted on crispy croissants and French-pressed coffee, and spent the day working on our 10 Trippy Tricks 2 necklaces. We made a hook-and-eye clasp and coil-wrapped beads (as featured on my Tribal Treasures Bracelet Workshop DVD), double-wrapped eye-pin loops, eye-pin links and silver-swirl beads, and the dreaded double-coil-wrapped bead!
Here's Cindy, coiling-coiling-coiling: 72 inches of 24ga wire onto some 22ga wire, which will later be coiled onto a base of 18ga wire to make a gorgeous bead. Admittedly it is tedious, but worth it (I tell my students), but oh my, how they do whinge about the coiling!
"Does it really have to be 72 inches long?" says one, and another proposes that we quit and do something else. I keep telling them it's worth all the effort. The double-coil-wrapped bead really is. (You can learn how to make the same bead by reading my book, Bead on a Wire.)
While the girls coiled and gossiped and laughed and whined about having to coil so much wire to make one silly bead, I worked on the necklace pictured above and actually finished it today. I haven't used orange beads very much in the past, but I thought it would be fun to try a new color-way. Meanwhile, the girls finished their dratted beads and I believe they were quite pleased with their efforts.
We finished the day with a rainbow in the sky and the most delicious dinner of roasted veggies and couscous, all washed down with plenty of wine.
Tomorrow we head off early in the morning to explore a French market, and enjoy lunch al fresco...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

10 Trippy Tricks in Provence

Every morning in Provence begins with the same predictable ritual: golden rays of light breaking over newly harvested lavender fields...
... touching the backyard succulents with a peachy glow...
... and sending Anna and me to the local boulangerie for crispy baguettes and thick, crunchy loaves of bread resembling a tree of life. After breakfast...
... our workshop begins on the outdoor patio. Anna's backyard is a little bit of heaven. We can hardly believe our good fortune to be here in such beautiful surroundings, a group of friends making jewelry together.
The mid-afternoon sun burned hot, and there was some drama moving the umbrella!
But soon enough things were set to right, and we continued working on our 10 Trippy Tricks necklaces. Now it's "wine-o-clock time," as the girls put it--time to set our work aside and pour a glass, followed by a dinner featuring Anna's Moroccan chicken. Mmmmm...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The girls have arrived!

It was 10:30 pm before they arrived here from the US and Europe, but, at long last, Anna's friends are all here and our workshop/vacation begins.
We started with a delicious supper of homemade tomato soup (Anna and I picked the tomatoes yesterday) and bread... and cheese, naturally. We're in France, after all. We also managed to kill three bottles of wine between the eight of us. Now we've cleaned up and some of us (wiser ones) have headed off to bed while the others (ahem) chatter nonstop downstairs, catching up on old times no doubt. They'll be sorry in the morning, when I awaken everyone with Anna's cowbell.
I'm looking forward to getting to know this group of gals. They look like fun, even after an entire day of traveling. I wish them a sweet night's rest before our workshops begin tomorrow!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Pont du Gard

It was time to leave Pezenas and make our way back east, where the buildings are made of weathered stone and the breeze tickles the olive trees (when a Mistral wind isn't whipping them about like mad things)... where lavender scents the hills long after harvest.
But first, a stop at the Pont du Gard!
An aqueduct built by the Romans around the time of Christ, this towering bridge and its surrounding natural environs are a walker's paradise. Anyone can easily take the well paved footpath up to the Pont du Gard, walk across the bridge, and continue to explore the area on foot or bicycle. We saw families with young children, elderly folks, and middle-aged athletes alike all enjoying the day. Kayakers, swimmers and anyone with a canoe can find plenty of exercise on the Gardon river.
Anna and I enjoyed a nice long walk and took several photos.
Here's a very ancient olive tree, possibly over 1,000 years old. The tales it could tell...
Once we'd spent some time having a nice walk, we headed east again toward Anna's home in Provence. We did stop at a couple of small villages en route, including Uzes and Lussan, where we found one of Anna's favorite pottery shops: Les Ceramiques de Lussan.
Famous for its sponge-painted pea hens, this shop also offers some nicely designed pheasants, fat chickens, ducks, and other birds as well as a new line of cats, bunnies and mice. Still, my favorite remains the pea hens. So absurdly sweet and charming... check out the Web site to see if I'm right.
Once we were back at Anna's house, it was rather late but we stayed up to watch a movie and then hit the sack. Tomorrow is to be spent at home grocery shopping and cleaning house in preparation for the group of gals who will be joining us for my wire-art jewelry workshops.
Yes, they arrive tomorrow night and the next day I begin to earn my keep here by teaching seven ladies various wire jewelry techniques! I'll teach for two days, and then we'll take the weekend off to explore the area and visit a big French antiques market, eat lots of cheese, drink wine, and generally have a great time.
Then more teaching, about three days' worth, before we prepare for our return home. Hard to believe, but I'm half-way through my adventures in France.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

French Market Jazz Band

I hope you enjoy this little glimpse into daily life in France.
This is a short video clip of a jazz band playing in Collioure during their open-air market. It's not a great video; taken on a still camera with a video feature, and filmed a good distance away, but enjoy it anyway!


We arrived in Collioure in the late morning, about 10 am, but by that time all the vacationers seemed to have hit the beaches and cafes. Parking was a bit of a problem, and frankly this is the busiest village we've visited thus far. Even in mid-September, Collioure is crowded! Above you can see a typical picture-postcard image of the town's main point of interest.
Collioure is ideally situated, about 15 miles north of the Spanish border, an easy day's drive from Barcelona. We never ventured that far, opting to spend the majority of our day in town.
The local town market was still in full swing when we arrived, just in time to listen to a terrific jazz band (the picture above is a still shot from a short video I took, which is why it's so small). Anna and I looked throughout the market for something special, but it was mostly tourist-trappings and items from Africa and Asia. We did purchase some delicious olives and aged goat's cheese for later on...
...and I couldn't resist a few bars of divinely scented soap!
Here's a cute puppy, enjoying the Collioure market in his own sweet way.
A windmill above the town reminds us that Spain is less than an hour's drive away.
Of course, Collioure is known for its artists and their studio/galleries. I had hoped that we might stumble upon Carole Rae Watanabe's Atelier L'Art Vivant and perhaps even meet her there, but I had no idea where it was. Suddenly, we turned a corner and practically fell into her lovely art space--sans Carole. Her partner, artist/painter and gallery director Daniele Canellas, was quite charming. I really wish that I spoke some French so that I could tell Daniele how much I admire her paintings; aren't they gorgeous?
Here's a brightly painted sign outside Carole Rae Watanabe's studio and house rental. If you're interested in staying here, check out her Web site for information.
After lunching on tapas (Spanish finger-food), Anna and I took a small train (Petit Train de Banyuls) above Collioure to view the vineyards and take photos of the bay from up above.
Afterward we stopped at Les Templiers for tea and coffee. Anna was delighted to discover that this was the very bar she had been searching for, which is famous for its 2,000 original artworks (actually in the bar, restaurant and attached hotel) created by various impressionists, modern artists such as Picasso (I actually saw an original signed sketch of his), and others. The paintings were rather dark and dull; perhaps they'd acquired a patina of cigarette smoke over the years.
Our time in Collioure came to an end by the late afternoon, and it was time to drive back to Pezenas for our last night. We watched the old BBC miniseries A Year in Provence, and then it was bedtime. Tomorrow, the drive back to Anna's house...

Saturday, September 5, 2009

How could I forget the cat lady?

I forgot to mention in my previous post that while Anna and were searching high and low throughout Pezenas for a bead store I had read about in France Magazine, we came across the most amazing cat lady. A local resident, she lives in a tiny three-story town house where she has rescued 14 stray cats and gives them a warm and safe home. She asked us for a small 3-euro donation to take photos of her charges, and I was happy to oblige her for this priceless image.
Can you imagine constructing a basket-balcony complete with French umbrellas for your felines? I'm thinking about it. I have a top-story loft in my house with two small windows that would be just right for this sort of arrangement...


This morning Anna suggested that we take a weekend car trip heading west to the Languedoc region, where we would spend a day in Collioure, visiting Saint-Remy-de-Provence, Les Baux, and Arles on our way. We stayed two nights at a friend's lovely home in Pezenas, an entire day in Collioure, and took a leisurely drive home on Monday.
Above you can see pictured one of those typically beautiful and charming little vignettes that are to be found around every corner in this region. I'm not sure if I took this photo in St. Remy or in Les Baux, but honestly, does it really matter?
The famous amphitheater, Les Arenes de'Arles, is central to this Van-Gogh besotted city. I'm afraid it's not quite as impressive in real life as it is in photographs, and the ruins are undergoing some type of renovation that Anna and I seriously question. I love the ancient, crumbling part of the building--but the newer, restored sections? Not so much.
We sat down to have some French crepes at a small bistro just opposite the amphitheater and were treated to an impromptu parade of beautiful Carmague horses and riders in traditional costume. Just the sort of travel experience you can't always plan for...
Our first night in Pezenas, we did find a bead store, but it was shut for the evening. So we grabbed a quick kebab for takeout dinner and headed out to find Anna's friend's house. That was easy enough, and I really enjoyed our weekend stay there. Even the neighbor's noisy goose, who honked at all hours of the night, couldn't dispel the peaceful atmosphere of this delightful town.

Friday, September 4, 2009

"Peter Mayle" Country

Today was dedicated to exploring what Anna likes to call "Peter Mayle" country: the area of the Luberon made famous by his book, A Year in Provence.
We started in Bonnieux, having a small coffee at a table right next to the water tank of sorts you find in the center of town. Anyone who has seen the movie A Good Year will recognize this landmark from the late-night dinner scene in the film. Haven't seen it in a while? Rent it! Great fun, and lots of scenes from Provence will make you long to visit this lush and beautiful country.
Our next stop was Lourmarin. Of all the little villages, small hill towns and large cities we have explored in Provence thus far, this one intrigues me the most for its beauty and charm.
I took this photo from the parking lot outside town, because if you look very carefully at the tiny window in the upper right-hand corner, you will see that this apartment is available for rent! Well, one can dream...
For more photos of Lourmarin, click here.
We met the funniest French bulldog in Lourmarin. Never got his name, he was so excited to have some attention, he jumped up on us again and again while we tried our best to capture a good photo of him. A local Frenchman told me the dog was so ugly, he was to be executed within 10 days if someone didn't claim him. Of course he was joking, but honestly, the dog was so ugly he was adorable--I'm sure you know the type. I'd love to take him back to the states with me, but alas, this is not possible...
Gordes is a famous Provencal hill town, and this is not the very best picture of it (midday, the light was flat), but nevertheless, the view is breathtaking. It was quite easy to explore on foot, if you don't mind climbing lots of steep streets and stairs. We saw several small art exhibits and did a tiny bit of shopping before heading out to our next stop...
This is Roussilon, or a small part of it anyway. The cliffs you see here are just magnificent, very high and impossible to climb, but famous for their striations of color that indicate the commercial value this area has long been known for. Ochre pigments have been sold here for centuries; Roussilon is situated in one of the largest ochre deposits in the world.
Anna knew of an art-supply store just outside the city center where you can purchase dry pigments, brushes, acrylic medium and paper to make your own paintings with the famous colors of Provence. I purchased a few small baby-food sized jars of pigments that I found on sale, and I look forward to having a free day soon to try my hand at painting with them.
I've never mixed my own pigments before, so this should be a treat!