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2000

Mont-Blanc Hiding
More photos HERE.

Chamonix au Paris


Hotel La Savoryde: Chamonix Mont-Blanc

9 July 2000

Thatíll teach me to wait for the sun. I finally went out into the village of Annecy to eat at about eight in a drizzle, only to find a remarkably beautiful and photogenic medieval town with charming vistas of old stone bridges across swan filled canals amidst ancient buildings painted in intense sherbet oranges, warm peach and contrasting avocado greens--decorated with endless flower boxes and hanging pots overflowing with geraniums, marigolds and complementary lavender blooms which took my breath away. I should have taken the opportunity to shoot some pictures when it was only a little overcast, as when I did so the next morning it was in the rain and I was in a hurry to leave to meet Dody, Giseleís friend, for lunch in the village Thones on my way up into the Alps. I have discovered, however, that my digital camera can catch color in lousy weather which a regular camera can not, and I think some shots came out ok. (Ha, Ha: 2006 note) I sure hope I can find someone to help me make my color printer work well when I get home, as I intend to have a lot of fun with it. (2006: No such luck. Pixel problems of the times.)

The drive to Thones and then through the alps to Chamonix Mont-Blanc was in rain and fog. Dody met me in front of the church of Thones in a downpour with an umbrella we shared en route to a yum lunch of tiny lamb filets artfully arranged with baby carrots and snow peas on a shallot wine sauce.

Dody quickly became a new friend as we jabbered along with my best fractured French and her bits of English. After lunch I followed her to her sweet little apartment in a Swiss chalet, where we wrote Gisele a postcard and sipped a special liqueur with sticks in it whose name I forgot to get before launching onto the incredibly winding road to Chamonix.

I have learned in life that some of us are more mountain people than others. My first love in college, Matthew, was an avid backpacker who I devotedly followed while huffing sweatily up steep trails with him shouting down to me from his goat-perch above me, ďItíll be worth it Karen...I promise!!Ē It never really was, as far as I was concerned, but of course I didnít tell him that. I think it boils down to two things for me--indolence and color. I am by nature not a very athletic person, perhaps because Iíve always compounded my laconic mesomorph metabolism with smoking. And, although I certainly enjoy a campfire, and can be a good sport about sleeping bags and hard ground, to be honest, one evergreen is as beautiful as another, and theyíve just never floated my boat, so to speak. On the other hand, when Matt and I took our ill-fated drive across the country, and hiked through Bryce canyon amidst yellow aspens and the orangely stratified stalagmites, now THAT was worth the sweat. It is against this background of sentiment that my foray into these majestic alps occurred, and suffice it to say that the rain and fog obscuring the dramatic, snow covered tops of the mountains did not help convert me to a mountaineer, even if I was driving a car and not hauling a pack up a trail.

My hotel room in Chamonix was a cozy knotty pine nook with a terrace which, under normal circumstances, would have me staring up close at one of the most beautiful glacial peaks on earth. Who would think that in mid-July I would instead be bundled in my trusty portable down comforter, having sent most of my winter clothes home, on my terrace watching the lower green parts of these peaks through falling rain while the blanc part of Mont-Blanc remained obscured by fog? It was nonetheless gorgeous, and oh how the melodies of nitengales can mock my disappointment and brighten everything. Chortle in the rain they did while water poured a fountain sound into the rain barrel below the house next door.

And, during dinner there was a brief but fortunate clearing of wispy, lumpy fog sausages passing by which at least allowed me to see what Iíd driven those treacherous switchbacks to see. The jagged white top of Mont-Blanc and its lower terrace on another peak appeared long enough to sock my solar plexus with their grandeur, and deeply appreciate being graced with even a brief appearance. All of this has aroused a determination in me to return to this region in the autumn, when El Nina has passed, the sun is shining, and the trees turn colors so outrageous that the beauty threatens to stir nausea.

From this magnificence I drove to another yesterday across the fog socked pass and down, down, down the other side, winding sharply past chalet after chalet and then steeply terraced mountainsides turned vineyards until the sparkling view of Martigny, Switzerland spread across the valley before me under bulbous gunmetal clouds and blinding bright white against patches of blue. (One annoying thing about driving solo on such roads is that it's next to impossible to stop for pictures. If you don't fall off a switchback, someone'll smack you from behind and you're a dead duck.) The destination here was the Van Gogh exhibit at Foundation Pierre Gianadda, for which massive posters alternating his portrait of Madame Ginoux with Le Pont de Langlois proudly marked the last several miles of switchbacks into town.

The exhibit made my heart sing, no doubt in part because so many of the works were lesser known and allowed for oohs and ahs of fresh discovery. And, they crossed a time span from 1881 to 1890, allowing one to imagine his internal world change as the years went by. There was a clear shift inside Vincent between the autumn of 88, and the spring-winter of 89, when there appears to have been a transition from his previous simpler, more ordered dabs and lines, to a disorganized and more cluttered period in May of 89 which, in turn, emerged into the first swirly lines of his later work. I will be curious to see if this progression holds true in his Holland exhibits. I imagined it to represent him pulling inside like a snail during a period of inner fragmentation, perhaps touching briefly on psychotic process, which got reorganized as he uncurled out into the round, swirls of starry nights, sunflowers and cypress which we all know so well.

I kept staring and studying the paintings with longing to be able to do what he did so naturally. As if I could osmosise his gift into me if I stared hard enough...trying to figure what color went under another, admiring the impressionist freedom to forget the detail and go for the big picture from afar. My efforts at watercolor have felt so tight, so determined to get the shutters to look like damn shutters.

One painting in particular stole my heart anew. Itís called Mas blancs aux Saintes-Maries, and contrasts very stark white barns with red doors against a deep blue sky and simply stroked orange fields in the foreground. The exhibit book says he used this one to practice complimentarity of color, so no surpise it touches me so. Iíve never seen it before, nor was it available in postcard or poster form. Clearly, I love Van Gogh, and this exhibit warmed my heart all the way to Yvoire, where I am now.

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