…feeling most alive / new work…

One year ago I moved to France.

One year ago I left Canada.

One year ago life seemed full of promise and opportunity. A dream was coming true, I was starting fresh in place that meant discovery was around every corner. Or at least behind every baguette…

But then, as life does, promise turns into reality and baguettes turn into fat if you don’t exercise. So you have to make a decision to stop eating so many baguettes. And then you have to figure out how to go forward in this new field of reality.

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My reality is one without my dad. And now I am slowly losing my mother to dementia. These things have taken from me. They have pulled at my ability to be whole. Now, I am away from home and I find one way to pull myself back together is through my camera.

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BOOM!

August 17, 2015  5:30pm the canon exploded and from that moment on I was hooked.

I have learned so much in the past year about the history behind this incredible tradition which originated in the Camargue. My newest project, SUD_ is going to follow several manades based in and around where I live.

Beyond the village fete and the spectacle created by running bulls through towns, there is a closely knit community of riders, photographers, spectators and ranchers that keep this way of life alive. Most interesting is the number of women now riding, in what was previously male dominated work.

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This project will grow in depth over time. It is not a shift away from architecture but a shift into looking deeply at the place I live. There is great joy in the moment, in the anticipation of that which might be wild, or dangerous and potentially life threatening. Not many things today make my heart beat as quickly as these riders on their horses chasing these bulls.

That is the initial draw. The long story, the rich story, is the behind those moments but they all lead to that rush where you feel most alive.

 

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Paper lanterns in the night…happy bastille day.

To kick off the celebration of Bastille Day today, July 14th, we went to a dinner last night in our village. It was a gathering of the community that began with small glasses of rosè as we talked with friends around the picnic tables set out for families to eat. 

Dinner was a simple but complete affair. Beef stew with olives, rice, and salad with a raspberry tart with jam and blue cheese for dessert. Of course there were plenty of baguettes. Everyone went into the community center to get the hot food on red trays. Red wine was brought to the table in plastic pitchers. As we all sat down with our trays, the bread was broken and we said our “bon appetit’s”.

After dinner, as the sun was setting, the children lined up at the city hall (Mairie) to each receive a paper lantern with a candle.

Each child carefully held the bamboo sticks with their lantern. And while most managed quite well, there were some little fires which fizzled out quickly, only to be replaced by another lit one, this time with grand mére holding the stick. 

Our friends visiting from Toronto were even able to get in on the action.

After the lanterns were all lit, we walked in procession to the old soccer field just on the outskirts of town. 

It was wonderful to walk through the crisp air under a half moon with our dinner party companions murmuring quietly in French while the children all carefully carried their lanterns in the dark night. 

Music filled the air as we arrived. A dark mournful chant – something Ravel like – we all felt like it was a real march – to what I wasn’t sure. 

As it turns out, it was an amazing fireworks display, coordinated to a set list operatic classical music.

As the fireworks exploded in in their triumphant last gasps, they looked like galaxies falling down towards our breathless upturned faces. They quickly faded into darkness, and the stars, constant, in spite of the drama below shone steadily with the moon to light our way home.

It is at times like last night, that I am so thankful to be here. 

Were you there too dad? Is it you who taught me this? To be joyful in life’s small moments of strange beauty?  I miss you.

Happy Bastille Day.  

My new favourite season

It used to be summer. It used to be the only season that had colour lasting longer than a week. And nights that were warm. It was the warm nights I loved the most. It was never spring. Spring was too short, in Toronto, if you blinked you would miss it. Suddenly there was no snow and blossoms appeared and then a rain storm would take them out. And summer started.

Here, spring lingers, warmth slowly creeping in and around rivers, forests, stone buildings. Like the wind, it swirls around the damp and the cold and pushes out winter, creating new space for life to grow. Fruit trees delicately began to leaf and then bloom. The rose bushes sprang to life in our yard, the jasmine began to bloom and fill the air with scent. The fields of wheat began to blow in the wind with poppies and thistles dotting the landscape. It is a feast for the senses. The light has also changed dramatically. Bright blue day time skies filled sometimes with crispy white clouds, and a coolish wind, make for sun that is hot and shade that is gorgeous. The sunrises are more confident and the sunsets have new pinks and purples that went away in the winter. It is a joy to see these changes.

So now. Spring. You have my heart.

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Wheat fields near Collias, France
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Poppy, near Collias, France
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Wheat and poppies near Collias, France.
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Poppy field near Collias, France

Hope to be changed.

Lately I have been in a lot of museums. They are not my favourite places to spend time. They are usually crowded and tedious. The walking kills me. The mindless conversations drain me. I go because I think I should. And of course most people like them. And when you travel with people you do the things they like to do. Given the choice, I would pick the streets and buildings of a city before its museums.

Of course, there are the few times when you are in a museum and that special thing happens. That moment when you see something that makes you feel more alive than the minute before, a flame ignites in your mind and you can see the world differently for that brief time. The experience of art will do this and it will change you. And this is what pulls me back. That hope to be changed.

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Snakes and Butterflies, Otto Marseus van Schrieck, The Louvre
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Detail from Tenture de la dame a la Licorne, Musée de Cluny.
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Arles View from the Wheat Fields – Vincent van Gogh, Musée Rodin

Wet. Cold. But it was Paris.

We had planned a week long trip to Paris for what was supposed to a glorious spring week of watching flowers burst into bloom. Unfortunately it felt like it rained everyday and with morning temperatures hovering at 2 degrees it felt more like winter than spring.
The train trip started out like this…

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But we were soon faced with the grey overcast skies of Paris.

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Even with blustery days and rain swept mornings every inch of that city is cool. And why wouldn’t it be?

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Every few blocks there is a bakery, a great little bar or restaurant, all the shopping you could ever want and any kind of museum you would want to visit. And it is quiet. For a big city, it is remarkably quiet. Noise exhaustion does not end your day, tired legs do.

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Pounding heart, boozy boys.

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This weekend there was a spring festival in our village. I think St. Chaptes either has strong ties to the manade community or they really like to drink – because we often have the abrivados in our village. This weekend there were two abrivados each day and 2 bandidos each night, and in between, very cheap aperitifs. This meant a lot of whoo hahers, (my affectionate term for drunken yellers).

The horses are simply wonderful. And while I understand the bull is the main event, I go for the horses. Their thundering hooves, extraordinary colouring and incredible work ethic make for in unbelievable display of Provencal tradition.

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It all begins for bystanders to choose a spot on the street to stand. The horses and bulls are stationed at the arena, just on the outskirts of town. A bull is released from the truck and two or three riders encourage / goad the bull through a route in the village. The young men run after the bull and attempt to stop it through sheer force.

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Most of the bulls this weekend had their horns blunted and wrapped in leather. This prevents goring but doesn’t really take away the physical threat that the bull possesses.

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When the riders and bulls approach from down the street, the suspense quickly builds. From relative quiet, the air quickly fills with the sound of pounding of hooves on the pavement and the shouts of communication between riders and runners.

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The thrill of the event is in the closeness to the animals, the suspense of waiting for the galloping horses and the unpredictable nature of the bulls. In spite of all the boozy boys, filled with adrenaline and testosterone, the thrill of danger combined with the mastery of man over nature, causes even the calmest of hearts to pound.