French Country

My life in France is not what I expected.


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I saw the best minds of my generation…

Apologies to Allen Ginsburg, if they be necessary. I'm certainly not the writer he was but I think he'd be okay with the sentiment. It's a crazy time. This is what I'm doing to stay sane. I have not touched a piano in 20 years or more but I loved it and have missed it ever since my fabulous, big-as-a-house old Steinway upright collapsed and my tuner said it would take over three months to get parts — right when I was about to move from my house of 20-plus years — the story of my life at that time. Anyway, I remember how I'd get lost in scales, even. In front of the piano was my happy place. Time to go back.

I'm starting from scratch. I would expect my musician friends to fall apart laughing, except that I remember my old next-door neighbor, who I believe is now teaching in the music department at Occidental College. Every time this brilliant guy, who warmed up, warmed up, by playing the Bach cello sonatas, would see me, he'd say, "Practice. Don't worry that your piano is right next to my studio, that I practice and give lessons there. Practice every day. You'll be good." Bless you, Tim Emmons, and thank you.

So I'm back at it. Anything to get away from the New York Times. Not their fault, but still. This is my rescue kit.

I don't expect my current neighbors to be as kind as Tim, so I got an electric piano, a Bluthner Pro-88. I think it was so cheap, way less than I sold the Steinway for, not even accounting for inflation, because there is a newer model out, but so what. It sounds good. The touch is nice, even adjustable. It came with headphones, which I'm sure the neighbors will appreciate.

So those are the basics. My life is too unsettled to have regular live piano lessons so I'm going to hope I don't develop too many bad habits. At least for now I'm going to limp along on my own.

I found these great apps. There is one just called "Theory" and another called "Tenuto." They give you the basic idea of the whole undertaking: how to read notes and time signatures, the keys to the kingdom, basically. I do better with explanations, so I can lose an hour with those, easily. I read James Rhodes' autobiography, "Instrumental," so I had to get his little book, "How to Play the Piano." Supposedly I'll be playing a Bach prelude in six weeks, all this theory time included. We shall see but I do like the book. And finally, "Mikrosmos," the piano exercises that Bartok wrote for his son. I bought Volume I all those years ago, when I got bored with the stuff my teacher assigned. I loved it, so when I found this, all seven volumes bound together, I went for it. This is all much less expensive than when I sold everything back in the '90's. It's amazing.

So here it is, an hour or so every day when I can say "Donald Who?" It's a lovely thing and it leaves plenty of time to engage with the mess we find ourselves in. And prune the roses, load the dishwasher, you know, real life.


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Jacques Report

This morning, as I was trying to decide whether to get coffee or just sleep a bit longer, Jacques was alert. Okay, when is he not alert, but this time he actually heard something, a scratching noise. Bless his brave little heart, he ran down to investigate. Five minutes of crazed barking later, I decided to go down, too. Realistically, what were my choices?

This was it, the whole thing. A loving mother rat with wings, oops, pigeon, tending her little brood. She must have figured out that she is safe behind that glass because she didn't move: not before I got there, not since. That said, I think she'll be glad we're gone.


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But is it Art?

On my first visit to Paris, I went to the zoo at the Jardin des Plantes. I couldn’t believe the whole city was as beautiful as the neighborhood I was staying in — the view from my room, a room without even a private bathroom, was of the gardens of the Prime Minister’s official residence — so I wanted to get out to a few other areas. Back then the Jardin des Plantes was considered pretty far out there. Anyway, it was January. It was cold. The animals and I were staying indoors. The chimps were bored. When I walked into their little building, they noticed. After all, I was the only person there. They ran over immediately, so excited, and spread shit all over the 5-meter-high windows, pooped in their hands, even, to provide themselves with more, um, artistic media. As I look at this wall I wonder whether I haven’t come back to where I started.
Pretty soon this wall will be covered with this paint. The furniture and silkscreen will return to their usual positions. I live in hope that it no longer looks quite so, well, poopy. The idea was to have the wall disappear behiind the clutter of stuff we have in this room. We shall see and I may update this post with an “after” photo. Meantime, I’m having a lot of fun. Making art is real work but this, this is fun. Though I am starting to wonder whether my Painter friends, Sharon and Frank, have been keeping a little secret from me: once they have worked up the general idea, I bet they’re having a lot of fun, too.


Four hours later, there it is, missed spots and all. The color is less poop, I hope, and more ’70’s almost-avocado, which makes it appropriate to the age of the building. The sofa is calling my name. Jacques’ cushions, the ones he loves to attack when dogs appear on screen, await him. And if you are wondering what the big kids do when they paint, there is one of Frank’s silkscreens. I’m tired. Time to watch Wimbledon.