Into the Alpes: Art Makers

Since I am on the search for artists as well as musicians and dancers, I was happy to come upon Miene Mathon and Alexis Nouailhat while visiting Aime.

They were both incredibly generous, inviting me to their homes (Meine gave me lovely tea and berry pie and Alexis had me for lunch with his family) and openly answering my many questions about their lives.

Miene lives part-time in Chaillol and part-time in Paris, where she works.  She specializes in a variety of mediums: mask making, painting and creating sets for theater.  If you are in France and interested in taking a mask making workshop at her awesome house in Chaillol you can find the details here:

Aime’s friend, Bernadette, took me to market with her one morning which is where I met Alexis.  He is a watercolor painter-traveler-naturalist and has a permanent gallery of his work at his house.  Of course, I loved seeing his studio and hearing his story of how he makes his living from traveling (Nepal is his favorite), watercoloring throughout his trip and then handing everything over to his editor/publisher who creates books for sale.  He has been making art professionally since he was around 15 years old and is incredibly prolific.

I like that his work ranges from mountains and landscapes to caricatures of local musicians (Aime being one) and cartoon-type scenerios with animal personalities.  He clearly has a good sense of humor.

Later, Alexis invited me to visit a goat farm where they make chevre (unfortunately I was so absorbed I completely forgot to take pictures) and on a mountain walk.  He knew about every plant and animal we encountered.  I remain in complete awe of the huge variety found in nature across the planet.

As a naturalist, Alexis was the perfect person to introduce me to some of the natural ecology of the high Alpes.  He showed me the coucou and the parachute bird (it flies high in the sky, drops its wings and dives straight down making a dropping parachute sound as it falls…amazing!).  Below are frog eggs.

After the walk we had a lunch of rabbit (that they raised themselves), salad, cheese, bread and home-made kombucha!  They have a huge garden in the front of their house and animals everywhere.  It reminded me of home.

Into the Alpes: Chaillol

From Grenoble I took a bus to St. Bonnet where I was met by my next host, Aime (sitting to the right in the picture below), who lives in a small village near a ski station called Chaillol.  I had met Aimie once before because he is a good friend of Joelle and Daniel’s.  I had also received his email almost a year ago from a Frenchman named Christian (who I met at the John C. Campbell Folkschool) who was kind enough to put me in touch with many of his musician friends.  Christian’s generosity is one of the biggest reasons I have been able to make such wonderful connections here.  Thank you Christian!

In the email I received from Christian about Aime he described a very cozy weekly gathering: “l’hiver nous joueons une fois par semaine dans un gite avec vin chaud et bonne soupe, tu vois ta copine serait aux anges.” (“in the winter we play one time a week in a bead-and-breakfast with hot wine and good soup, you see your friend would be with the angels”)  Sounds like heaven eh?

Aime and his very friendly/lively/fun friends only spoke a little English, which was perfect for me.  We understood each other just fine (expect when Aime started talking about philosophy and other such abstract topics…he would completely loose me, he’d realize and then we’d have a good laugh).

Aimie showed me all kinds of things during my visit: his favorite movies, his collection of books on philosophy, his packed away letterpress equipment from they days he was a printer, his favorite view of the mountains, and the community bal folk dance and potluck they have every Tuesday night.

One day, he took me to this very old, teeny-tiny church covered with stone “dolls.” The story goes that once upon a time there was a man who was deeply in love with a woman and for some reason he was not able to tell her.  Rather than kill himself, he used his frustrated energies to create the odd facade of this rural place of worship.

One of the wonderful things about France is that you don’t have to go very far before you are in a completely different landscape or even climate.  The area surrounding Aime’s small village was sooooo different from any place I had been yet.  It’s even more interesting that different landscapes naturally inform different ways of life for the people who live there.  There are difference cheeses, different wines or liquors, different ways of farming, different ways to build houses, different expressions, accents and jokes.

Into the Alpes: Grenoble

If you have been following my trip right along, you already know that I have been incredibly lucky in my search for musicians, artists, dancers and creative-livers to visit.  I was lucky, once again, when I met Phillipe and his family at the festival Boulegan l’Ostal.

He joined one of our jam sessions with his 5-string banjo and we ended up talking about how he found old-time music in France (through Irish music and meeting Polo) and the time that he came to the United States to Mount Airy, a fiddler’s convention I go to every year.  His invitation to visit them in Grenoble was perfectly timed.  I honestly wasn’t sure were I was going to go after my visit with Polo and Nadine.

This is his daughter, Eva, and their cat, Plume.

Eva and I made fast friends.  She was not shy to correct my French and she played her flute for me.  I showed her the drawings in my sketchbook and taught her how to thumb wrestle (a very important thing to know in life).

One morning, I suggested that we draw a picture of each other and label each body part, her in English and me in French.  We spent hours trading the names for body parts, correcting each other’s pronunciation, adding color with my mini-watercolor set, and pointing out details (like eye-lashes, for example) that the other had forgotten.  I enjoyed her company immensely.

I stayed for 3 days.  Each morning I had breakfast with Eva and Phillipe’s wife, Danuta (we spoke only in French) and then I would pack a bag for the day.  Basically, I just wandered the streets until dinner-time.  I looked and walked and looked…and sketched some too.

I liked Grenoble alot.  I liked that you could see giant, snow capped mountains from every direction beyond the city’s skyline.  I liked the snazzy, white/lime green/turquoise, above ground trolley cars that were so easy to jump onto.  I liked seeing paintings on the cement walls of walking tunnels.  I liked people watching at the large market in the center of town.  I liked the spaceship-like, public toilets with automatic doors that cost .20 and would pop up right when I needed to pee (it is sooo frustrating to need to pee and not be able to find a place!).

However, I did NOT like that a cup of green tea cost almost $4.00!

My most favorite spot of all was Le Jardin de Ville, the city’s central park.  Spring was in the air and all ages came out to enjoy it.

Festival #2: La Motte en Provence

The weekend after the festival, Boulegan l’Ostal, we packed it up again and drove south to La Motte en Provence.  This exact dance weekend had been recommended to me before I even set foot in France.  However, between not having a car and the cost of entry I wasn’t sure how I was going to pull it off.  It was a wonderful coincidence (my whole trip has been built on such coincidences) that Polo and Nadine’s band, Ida Red, had been hired to perform.  Luckily, they needed a banjo player and I happened to know one…tee hee.

First, we played for a daytime “American Dance Workshop,” a.k.a. contra and square dance.  A wonderful woman named Cathi taught and called the dances.  It was funny to hear dance calls, something so familiar to me, said in French rather than English.

When Cathi learned that I clog and have taught clogging she asked if she could incorporate me into the workshop.  I said, “Sure!”

The evening dances went until 4am in the morning with a variety of bands playing for tango, Cajun, contra and traditional bal folk danse.

Here is a short video of Ida Red playing the last waltz of the evening set.  I love how Polo and Nadine are standing side by side in their matching overalls.

I have to mention this tidbit before I leave you because I thought it was funny.

Below is a picture of our accommodations for Night #1: a gym floor.

Then, here is Night #2…

…which included a swimming pool (though we weren’t there long enough to take a swim) and a lovely breakfast.

French Food Intermission!

Howdy there!  I think it’s time for a short intermission to continue to honor the crazy-good food here.  Festival #2 will be next time.

NOTE: If you receive these entries via email and you were unable to view the videos in the last post you can go to this link: to see it directly on my website.  The post is named “Boulegan l’Ostal.”

Now for some food!