Hail to Women, Art, Provencal Friendships

Gwen has written a new children’s book! And, I was about to send out the information about the book to some of my friends and family and then I realized I wanted to not only praise her accomplishment of yet another new children’s book published, but also use this opportunity to speak to how grateful I felt to have her friendship and ‘the others’, when I landed in the south of France almost 7 years ago.

Before arriving in France for a year, I had a series–not just two or three medium to major stresses that had occurred but a dozen or so, a sort of tidal wave, shifting sometimes to just a surfer’s wave of mishaps, sorrows, loss, all rolling in, one right after another. So, in an attempt to bring the ‘standing strongly upright’ hairs on my arms back down again’, I gave myself a gift–a year in Provence.

Ok, well, not exactly. Rather a summer in Paris, eight months in Provence and some other memorable travels packed in as well. My hope was to have time to be stimulated by my visual surroundings, yet also allow myself to go quiet and relearn what ‘calm’ feels like.

Well, the dramatic hillside village of Bonnieux, could not have turned out to be a better landing spot for my purposes at that time in my life. My plan was working!

After settling in, I went exploring. How about an art course in the nearby village, Lacoste? I could see its chateaux lit up at night from my rental apartment windows.

I knew there was a branch of Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) located there so some of my first wanderings led me to find out more. After all, not only did I get to check out the school, but wouldn’t you be curious to see a village that had a 15th century chateau once owned by the Marquis de Sade and now owned and refurbished by Pierre Cardin?

Read this 2007 article: http://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/pierre-cardin-provence-castle-article

and another about SCAD here: https://www.scad.edu/locations/lacoste

By the end of my afternoon of snooping the steeply inclined narrow streets of the village ‘campus’, I was introduced to the Executive Director, Mary, an American ex-pat with a strong background in the arts.

We latched on to one another and before I knew it, she offered to gather up a group of her other English-speaking women ex-pats so we could celebrate our Provencal life together, which, of course, ended up always involving food, wine, and laughter–as well as art exhibitions thrown in there too.

Think independent-intelligent-creative-supportive-gentle, yet know what the word fun-loving is all about-and, yes, curious risk-taking (I feel all ex-pats have that quality in them) women. We met in cafes, restaurants, homes–outdoors and indoors–depending on the weather at the moment.

This was an unexpected part of the gift I had given to myself! Here I was in a region where the winters don’t support tourists and the villages shut down many of their businesses over the colder months. Villages of a few hundred locals each and, yet, these ex-pat English-speaking women were out in full force sharing their sense of camaraderie with me.

With the exception of Gwen, we have all moved on to other lands, but it doesn’t mean we don’t take turns returning to embrace the life we lived there, when we can.

Mary went back to her life in Antibes-on the Cote d’Azur-when she left the directorship at SCAD. She is still involved in the art world and I will find out more, in just a few weeks, as we have planned a visit on the Mediterranean.

Crista is difficult to grab for a visit. She is a wanderer, oft times having to do with her art business. You can find her at her website: http://theworkingartist.com. She is a great short storyteller and you can read about her explorations of the world on her Facebook page.

I hope to catch up on the news of the rest of the women, and their whereabouts, when I see Mary.

But now, back to Gwen and her new book!

Gwen was, and still is, the Director of Dora Maar House, ‘a residential program for arts and humanities professionals’. It is situated in another gorgeous hillside village, Menerbes, not far from where I landed in Bonnieux.

Read more about it here:   https://www.mfah.org/fellowships/doramaarhouse/

And, her book…so timely. I doubt, when she started her writings, did she know how timely it would be at publishing time. Here are the author’s words about her book, ‘The Hiding Game’:

“The story is set in Marseille in 1940-41. I wrote the book hoping to tell a little bit about this heroic story, and how art and laughter helped those fighting against fascism.

It’s also about refugees, and unlikely heroes who bravely stood up against the Nazi threat. I feel it is a story that is relevant today and one I wanted to share with children.

 I have worked on this project for several years, involving true events and my own family, so I feel really proud that it finally took solid form! The book is dedicated to the memory of my grandmother Zabeth.

 You can watch this You Tube Video to get an idea about what the book is about. You can order the book now from your local bookstore. Or from Barnes and Noble. Or from Amazon.”

Please consider this book for one of your children/grandchildren. If nothing else, please check out her well-done video she produced as an introduction to her book. It speaks to her great uncle’s brave choice, along with the others he joined to provide escapes for ever so many.

With a book like this, who would ever want to consider doing away with the Arts….not me! What a privilege for me to know these women who wholeheartedly welcomed me at a time when I needed just their ‘artistic touch’. I warmly thank you. Judy





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