I sat painting this house with no idea who lives there. But doesn’t it look restful?
When Thomas Jefferson finally retired from public life to his beloved Monticello, a steady stream of visitors made its way up the hill to visit and pay homage. Debts led to the property’s sale upon his death in 1826, and the house fell into a sad state of disrepair. It was rescued at last by admirer Uriah P. Levy and his nephew Jefferson Monroe Levy and, later, the Monticello Foundation.
I wonder what Jefferson would make of the fact that the procession of admirers continues today, bearing digital cameras to record his gardens, his architectural innovations, his books and tools and inventions. None of us, however, is invited to stay for a month or so in one of the guest rooms. Unfortunately.
Each spring at this time, the children of our homeschooling coop spend a week on a working farm. They feed the animals, gather eggs, milk cows, spread manure, plant seeds, work on meal preparation and cleanup, and generally help out with whatever needs to be done. This year they also participated in gathering and boiling sap for maple syrup, which they then ate with their pancakes the next morning. When we parents go to fetch them at the end of the week, they are muddy, tired, and already looking forward to returning next year. We always hope the children will come home begging for a few more chores to be added to their lists. Maybe if we kept a cow…
‘Twas on a holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,
The children walking two and two in red and blue and green:
Grey-headed beadles walked before, with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul’s they like Thames waters flow.
O what a multitude they seemed, these flowers of London town!
Seated in companies they sit, with radiance all their own.
The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands.
Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song,
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of heaven among:
Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor.
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.
From my sketchbook, in the spring a couple of years ago. We took a break from lessons in the middle of the week to walk along the C&O Canal, look at emerging wildflowers, visit the small history exhibit in the Great Falls Tavern Visitors Center, and have a picnic lunch in its garden. One of the many advantages of homeschooling.
This rather yellowed sketch is from a previous lifetime when my husband and I were first married and living in Paris, drawing, painting, sculpting. Before children. Before we became rather yellowed ourselves. I chose this particular walk down la rue des souvenirs, when we were temporary expatriates, in honor of Sylvia Beach (1887-1962), whose birthday it is today.
Beach was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and was actually christened Nancy, but she later changed it to a name she chose herself. There were generations of clergy and missionaries on both sides of her family, but Beach chose literary passion and Francophilia over religious fervor. Definitely similarities there though.
Perhaps she became a Francophile during her father’s assignment to the American Church in Paris when she was fourteen, because she returned to Paris later to pursue studies in French literature, and stayed for the rest of her life. Her research led her to a meeting, collaboration, and romance with Adrienne Monnier, who had in 1915 opened a bookshop-cum-lending library specializing in French translations of modern works. By 1921 Beach’s own shop, Shakespeare and Company, was installed across the street at 12, rue de l’Odéon, in the Latin Quarter, offering classical and modern literature and periodicals in English and English translations.
Shakespeare and Company quickly became one of the centers of the Paris literary world, with authors, poets, and readers wandering back and forth across the street between the two complementary shops (imagine!) to engage in discussion, exchange news, and borrow money (struggling writers being ever short-handed). But she was far more than a seller of books. Kind, cheerful, enthusiastic, and generous as well as learned, she took it upon herself to help aspiring writers succeed, introducing them to one another and to helpful contacts, taking them round to visit Gertrude Stein’s salon of poets and artists, organizing readings to bring their works before the public. She helped James Joyce and Henry Miller find publishers for their work, which was banned and unprintable in their native countries.
When the Germans invaded Paris in 1939, Beach was forced to close her shop and spent six months in an internment camp, afterwards hiding out with a friend (she was after all an enemy American) until the war’s end. The shop never reopened after the war, but a new version was launched in 1951 under the same name, with Beach’s permission, on rue de la Bûcherie (about which more in a later post).
Pretend you are a young, aspiring American writer on your first visit to Paris. Back on the farm they think you’re crazy. You wander into Shakespeare and Company and encounter Ernest Hemingway… F. Scott Fitzgerald… Ezra Pound. Miss Beach ropes you in to help edit press proofs. In the afternoon she takes you to the Steins’ to see the new work of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse and in the evening to admire Josephine Baker dancing at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées. Paris in the 1920s was a refuge from Puritanism, Prohibition, and Prejudice, and Sylvia Beach did her part to make it so. Happy Birthday, Patron Saint of the Independent Booksellers.
Although I’ve only visited a few times, I am a great admirer of the state of Vermont. Beautiful, sheep-strewn landscape; charming, funky old country towns; progressive politics; independent, interesting, self-employed people—it is both green and cool in all senses of those words.
Long ago home to Beluga whales when it was an inland sea, then to Algonquin-speaking Native American tribes, it was first spotted by Europeans when Samuel de Champlain sailed its eponymous lake in 1609, leading the way for French exploration and settlement. And for a while it was under French rule. Then British rule. But Vermont declared itself an independent republic in 1777, taking the name from its French heritage, and wrote itself a constitution abolishing slavery, setting up public schools, and granting the vote even to non-landowners. (Male ones, anyway. There are limits even to Vermont’s progressive ideas.)
Today is the anniversary of the day in 1791 when Vermont finally decided to join the Union as its 14th state, a decision some Vermonters probably regret as they see how the rest of us are lagging behind them.
For a laugh to start your day, check out this funny rap video parody made by the son of a Vermont friend, called “802” after the state’s single area code. You have to listen twice to catch some of the lines:
We like our Cabot cheddar extra sharp
Our roofs have leaks so we patch it with a tarp
Cellphone service questionable
Farmers Market is our biggest festival
Got creamiest milk in the fifty states
We go on picnics and dine off paper plates
Biggest piles of snow in the USA
Yeah we made it legal in this state to be gay
Happy Anniversary, Vermont! Stick with us—we’re coming along.
From my series of doorway/window paintings. More on those later, I hope.
Really, this poem properly belongs to Valentines Day…
Wild nights! Wild nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Futile the winds
To a heart in port,
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart.
Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!
Might I but moor
To-night in thee!