Thursday, September 30, 2010

Physical Art

I've had a crush on Andy Goldsworthy for years. And, like all devout druids, I went gaga over Rivers and Tides. So when local artist Christophe Eppe invited us Musers to join him today for a natural art collaboration, I jumped at the chance. 

We followed him high up into the hills, past his studio in St. Julien, to a viewpoint looking out across the Black Mountains toward Carcassone:

Our goal was to create a large egg from the slate tiles scattered about the hillside. Our first two attempts collapsed early on, but the third one held:

Musers Katharine Whitcomb and Jaclynn Gereluk, with artist Christophe Eppe.

Time out for lunch at a pretty nice picnic spot:

And back to work. Nearly finished...


p.s. Christophe is an amazing painter as well. As soon as he has a site to link to, I'll post it.

p.p.s. Because there were many hands at work and only one piece of work at hand, I slipped away a couple of times and created my own secret sculpture in the woods. (I had to leave a trail of "stick crumbs" so that I could find my way back each time.) 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


The clock in the library
It's always quarter to seven in the library at La Muse, which means that it's always time to unwind, to relax from your labors (whether they be waking up or finishing dinner), to sit back with a cup of tea and launch into a good conversation.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Wandering Muse Salon

The Wandering Muse Salon was born this evening!

In the words often attributed to Goethe:

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now."

So it begins!

Goethe at the Wandering Muse Salon

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fresh Walnuts

I began this blog so that I could write about beautiful, inspiring spaces. But while I'm in this beautiful, inspiring space called France, I've taken to writing about my daily discoveries. Today I discovered fresh walnuts.

I've never liked nuts, although I recently started eating them because they're "good for me"--walnuts are packed with omega-3s, are a good source of monounsaturated fats, and contain powerful antioxidants, as well as vitamin E, copper, and manganese. But I've never had a good time with a walnut. Until today.

On the way back from my early morning trip to "the Source" (the village spring), I saw a walnut in the road.

I'd heard that the walnuts were going to be ripe soon, and I furtively dropped this one into my pocket. At home, I used the garlic press as a nut cracker, and popped the meat into my mouth.

It was delicious: creamy and crisp, almost like coconut, but with a light and distinctive nutty flavor. And plumper and sweeter than the bitter dried nuts I've suffered through before. Mmmmmm!

On my next trip to the Source, I took some pictures of the trees full of green pods (and a few more nuts):

A grove of walnut trees
Green walnut pods
An emerging nut

Sunday, September 26, 2010

French Sentences

My fellow Muser, Kathy, is in the next room playing a game she calls "French sentences": concocting seventeen-syllable haiku about her experiences in France--a little exercise to get her poetic energies flowing. 

It sounds like fun on this lazy, post-French-lunch Sunday afternoon, so I'll give it a try:

Traversing the forest in the rain, I arrive home cold and happy.

Loaded brush poised over a blank page; maybe I should go for a walk.

We toss the empty bottles and climb the slanting stairs to our cold beds.

Send me your French sentences here.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Blue Shutters

Everyone has blue shutters here. Heartachingly blue.
They thrill me. They kill me. They make me want Everything.

Friday, September 24, 2010


This afternoon, during a rain break, I headed off for a hike with a fellow Muser, poet Katharine Whitcomb. Our destination was Cubserviès, a tiny hamlet clinging to the mountain rock. When we were halfway there, it began to rain. Then it poured. By the time we arrived, we were soaked. But, drenched and cold as we were, we ran through the hamlet and exclaimed over the views, including the Cascade de Cubserviès, one of France's lesser-known ("secret") waterfalls. 

Take a peek at Katharine's blog "Poetry Is Cool."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

French Lesson: I've Been a Fountain Pen!

I was sitting out on the patio the other evening, contentedly sipping wine and indulging in my ninth new cheese of the week, when I suddenly realized I'd said something absurd to the clerk at the art store in Carcassonne. The fountain pen I'd been buying was different from others I'd had, so I wanted to know how to fill it. The clerk asked if I'd had a fountain pen before. When I answered and she looked incredulous, I repeated what I'd said (more emphatically this time): Mais oui! J'ai été un stylo à plume. (Yes! I've been a fountain pen.) I'll never confuse j'ai été and j'ai eu again.

The patio of La Muse

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Poetry: David Whyte

It's dawned on me that I'm not going to get a lot of "work" done at La Muse. Instead, inspiration and revelation are coming at me so quickly that all I can do is sit back and let it happen. I can feel myself changing shape. Whoever I am at the end of the retreat will be the one who will roll up her sleeves and set to "work."

Poet David Whyte speaks of this transformation in "Revelation Must Be Terrible":

Revelation must be
   terrible with no time left
to say goodbye.

Imagine that moment
   staring at the still waters
with only the brief tremor

of your body to say
   you are leaving everything
and everyone you know behind.

Being far from home is hard, but you know,
   at least we are exiled together.
When you open your eyes to the world

you are on your own for
   the first time...

Join me for Whyte's seminar "What to Remember When Waking" in Vancouver on November 20.

Here is sample of Whyte (on transformation in Rilke's "The Swan"):

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Carcassonne, Or, Quatorze Bouteille de Vin

My plan today was to see Carcassonne, the second-most visited city in France (according to at least two people I know). I had skipped around the enchanted cité on my way to La Muse, but today I was eager and ready, with a plan of attack.

After an exhilarating (read "gripping") drive down the serpentine one-and-a-half-lane mountain road, my first stop was at Leader Price in the outskirts, to stock up on kitchen staples. As it was my première French supermarket experience, I decided to take my time and see everything. And to go easy on the produce, meats, and cheeses, preferring to save myself for the better goods in the local village shops.

Two hours later, I emerged with four brimming bags of groceries--three of them stuffed with bottles of wine (I counted fourteen bottles in all when I got home). Huzzah!

I ate a quick lunch, then let loose at Cultura, an art, book, and music store, where I splurged on a beautiful fountain pen and a bottle of livid turquoise ink that reminded me of absinthe. I also made off with a pretty blue box of pastels and a stack of lovely textured papers.

Eager to break out my new art (and drinking) supplies, I flew back to Labastide, happening to catch a distant view of La Cité along the way:

I'm getting closer...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tea House Gallery / Zen Dog Studio

For years I've been throwing Full Moon Tea Parties. These usually consist of me, a cup of tea, and the always fashionably late moon. But every now and then I have an actual guest, and then I pull out all the stops--candles, flowers, and a feast fit for twenty.

Undaunted by this lack of fellow night revelers, I have ventured into visions of hostessing a Chai Palace: my quiet island cabin transformed once a month into an underground creativity salon, a mecca for artists, writers, musicians, and slanted thinkers, where anything goes and everyone who wants to can be someone else for the night. Eventually, of course, Creative Types will be coming by at all hours, and I'll be forced into the role of full-time Salon Muse. So goes the dream.

Well, I recently happened into a real-life manifestation of this dream: the Zen Dog Studio's Tea House Gallery in Seattle. It's a tea shop, an art gallery, and a framing service, but, best of all, it's a serene meditative space where you're welcome to sit all night while tea master Larry Murphy pours you cup after cup of delicious, intoxicating green tea. And teaches you how to appreciate it, too. I brought some of his Golden Needle with me to France to sip while I paint, for energy and inspiration.

I'll share more in a future post, after another late-night round (or two or three) of Pu-er. In the meantime, if you need a wormhole out of Planet Starbucks, look for the beckoning red lanterns.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Universe in Bloom

In Amsterdam last week, I discovered this fragrant galaxy of blooms on the ceiling of one of the flower stalls in the famous floating Bloemenmarkt.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

La Muse

La Muse is everything you could want in an artists' retreat: it's beautiful, romantic, serene, and comfortable, with gorgeous views, kilometers of forest trails, and a library you wish you could pack up and take home with you. 

The inn is an old stone manor house, parts of which date back to the twelfth century, which owners Kerry Eielson and John Fanning have lovingly restored and furnished. Each of the rooms is named after one of the classical Muses. I'm staying in Erato, named after the muse of lyric and love poetry--fitting for troubadour country.

The entrance to La Muse

Labastide-Esparbaïrenque is itself a magical place. Sweet figs drop from the trees, the streets are picturesque, narrow, and steep, and the church bell tolls the time every hour--twice.
View of the patio from the rooom

The streets of Labastide
All in all, this is the perfect space for creativity to blossom.

To read more about La Muse Inn, click here. To apply for a residency at La Muse, click here.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Welcome to Temple of Leaves.

It's my first day in southern France, and already I'm inspired.

I'm at La Muse, a writers' and artists' retreat in run by Kerry Eielson and John Fanning in Labastide-Esparbaïrenque, a tiny medieval village tucked away in the Black Mountains. I'm ostensibly here to paint, but I've already confessed to John that I'm really working on giving shape to a nebulous dream of mine--to create beautiful, peaceful sanctuaries in places that need them. Refuges from the clamor and whir of everyday life. Retreats both tangible and ethereal. Spaces where one's thoughts can be heard, vital conversations can be had, and dreams can take shape.

The door opens; the quest begins...

Click here to share your thoughts and suggestions about your own favorite places.