Thursday, July 19, 2007

Pied Pipering in France

I may be a children’s book illustrator, but Pied Piper I ain’t.

Getting 18 American schoolteachers and librarians to my little French village of Rignac in southwest France, was like herding the proverbial cats.

One car got tangled up in the periferique around Paris and arrived via Lyons. One car broke down in Chateauroux so its passengers had to train down as another car with automatic transmission could not be located. The last straggler, a Mom who couldn’t miss her daughter’s graduation back home, arrived by train a few hours later (much later…five in the morning), but eventually they all were here, enthusiastically armed with paintbrushes, stretched paper and little tubs and tubes of Prussian blue, Alizarin crimson and Cadmium yellow for my weeklong watercolor workshop.

The excitement of waking up in a French country farmhouse quickly shook off any traces of jetlag. At seven am, they were up and ready to explore the picturesque village of Autoire on the way to the market in Saint-Céré where they filled baskets with cheese, farm bread, saucisse and pêches plates before returning to my barn/studio for class at 9:30am.

After a day of mastering washes, executing magnificent “watermelon haiku”, and replicating the texture of ancient oak doors, they were ready for more adventures.

They stripped and dipped in the Alzou River on the 12-kilometer pilgrimage route from Rignac to Rocamadour on a warm summer evening. They descended the gouffre de Padirac for an underground boat trip past towering stalagmites and tites, followed by a picnic on the river. They quaffed down bière pressions and whooped for the “Texan” dancers at a local Fete de Musique on midsummer’s eve. They learned how to make gougères and crème brulée with a local chef, and admired the 20,000 year old painted horses and etched mammoth in the caves at Peche Merle.

Most nights, I would find a few avid painters burning the midnight oil in the barn/studio, adding final touches to their paintings before turning in for the night. Pressure was on- I had invited the mayor as well as some other prominent locals to view the works and savor the products of the cooking class at the end of the week!

The show was a great success. Everyone oohed and ahhed appreciatively at the paintings suspended on twine with clothespins. A local connoisseur introduced the group to a sampling of the best French red wines from Cahors, the Cote de Rhone, Burgundy and Bordeaux. My farmer neighbor (and protagonist of Spree in Paree and Porc in New York), Monsieur Monteil (alias Monsieur Monmouton), grumbled between signing books that the newspapers and television people hadn’t been alerted, concerned he was missing out on his 15 minutes of fame.

The week ended with a visit to the medieval town of Sarlat, a canoe trip down the Dordogne and the Fete de St Jean, the village bonfire when à la tradition, the locals tossed last winter’s straw mattresses into the fire.

After loading up with antiques at the brocante fair in Gramat on Sunday morning, the group bid me adieu and set off for Paris…and I went to bed for a week.