Art therapy at St-Paul de Mausole

Just south of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence are groves of olive trees and rows of cedars. Driving along the D5 highway, one might miss the Maison de Santé Saint-Paul de Mausole which rests back from the highway. I know our first trip to St-Rémy, we certainly did.

The olive groves off of D5

However, back in the surroundings of this traditional Provençal landscape is a special place of rest.  It is a home for psychiatric patients, individuals with special needs, and the elderly. Art therapy is used with the patients as a method of healing.

Cloister at St-Paul de Mausole

Grounds at St-Paul de Mausole

And one of the patients…Vincent Van Gogh.   The courtyards and grounds are filled with scenes familiar to many.  From an art standpoint, his time in Provence was his most productive period.

Scene for Les Oliviers

Vincent Van Gogh’s, Les Oliviers, image courtesy of Google Images

Scene for Le ravin des Pairoulets

Vincent Van Gogh’s Le ravin des Pairoulets, image courtesy of Google Images

Van Gogh lived here after his stay in Arles, and after the loss of his ear, committed himself.  It is evident the staff appreciated Van Gogh as they let him paint alone outside, a designation not given to many.   In St Rémy, Van Gogh created 143 oil paintings and  100 drawings within one years’ time.

My aunt, Miss Talent, enjoying the grounds at St-Paul de Mausole.

Still today, patients create masterpieces in the form of painting and sculpture. They are for sale in the small shop that sits below Van Gogh’s old room.  It makes you wonder about undiscovered potential, perhaps within one of today’s artists living there.  After all, Vincent maybe earned $100 as an artist before he died.

The Irises, was also painted by Van Gogh at St-Paul de Mausole.   In 1987, it was the most expensive painting ever sold. Image courtesy of Google Images.

Our leader Kay read this quote as we pulled away from the site,

“The world concerns me only in so far as I have a certain debt and duty to it, because I have lived in it for thirty years and owe to it to leave behind some souvenir in the shape of drawings and paintings – not done to please any particular movement, but within which a genuine human sentiment is expressed.” ― Vincent van Gogh

I for one am very glad for his souvenirs.


Gratitude Friday: My First Vernissage

The photography group I belong to at the AIWC recently hosted a vernissage.   The word vernissage is common in French & Dutch, and references an opening night of an exhibition before it is open to the general public.  In this instance, it was a vernissage of our photography.

I wrote a small article about the event in the AIWC magazine, The Courier.  I thought I’d share an excerpt:

We are a group of women encompassing all ages and backgrounds.  Our photography expertise is just as diverse as our personal qualities, as we have professionals and beginners.  We have members who have been taking photos just a few months, yet some their entire lives.  We have large paparazzi cameras and we have small “point-and-shoots”.   However, we are all artists.  And we enjoy learning from each other.

Most of our work is done along themes.   Our leader, Wilna, says about themes, ”The theme is like a guide for your eye. It stretches your looking around and influence your focus.  It makes the photographer like a detective, who has his eyes always open for new discoveries.

Sport. Clocks. Bridges. Leaves. Trees. Roofs. Mountains. Textiles. Surfaces. Bottles. Time. Street life. Hands. Shadows. Eyes. Music.     These are yet a few of our themes that inspire our work.

It is quite interesting how a group can interpret these singular words.   Once a month, we come together for photo sharing and each member presents the work they have done along the theme.  Sometimes, photos can be almost identical, and other times, worlds apart.  It is beautiful that way, how we each interpret these themes differently, and thus, we learn and grow together in our perspective. 

In addition to our thematic projects, we have group photo shooting outings where we explore areas of Geneva together.  We also attend exhibitions and share articles and books to draw our inspiration.

This month, we’ll be launching a new exhibition at the club.   Each photographer will display their individual “Passion in Photography,” so you will be able to learn more about their style, motivations and interests through their personal exhibit.  We will host a vernissage, or opening night, on September 27 from 3:30 to 20:00.   We do hope to you can attend so that you can see our interpretations and our passion. 

Seventeen of the women in our photography group exhibited.   Here were a few photos of the set-up before the guests arrived.

Setting up for the vernissage. Photo courtesy of friend, CB.

Setting up for the vernissage. Photo courtesy of friend, CB.

Setting up for the vernissage. Photo courtesy of friend, CB.

The long hallway. Photo courtesy of CB.

For the exhibition, we were encouraged to select photos that represented our passion in photography.  For my wall, I chose to do landscape photography and my favorite thing to do with them: paint.   So, I accompanied each photograph with a painting of that same scene.    The camera lens is sometimes called the “third eye”.  For me, it was meant to show a “fourth eye”: the canvas, and the difference that medium can bring to an image.

Floating Village, Cambodia

White Turf, St. Moritz, Switzerland

Sun Salutation, Jussy, Switzerland

My display. Photo courtesy of C.

So, thus this week’s gratitude post.   This photo group has been very fun to be a part of.   I have learned a lot from the women in the group.  Mostly about patience.  While I tend to rush through things, the women in the group are from different cultures which tend not to be in such a hurry.   Being around them when doing photo-shooting has really inspired me to notice the small things.  Changing an angle or just waiting around for something different to happen can really change the emotion of a photograph.

Aside from that, I am grateful for the social aspect.   We have members from The Netherlands, U.K., U.S.A., South Africa, Canada, Japan, Brazil, Australia, and France.   How wonderful it is to see their perspectives and the subjects that they chose to shoot, and to learn alongside them.

I really do appreciate my time in Geneva for getting to do this. Also, a big thanks to my hubby for his support in my hobbies, especially with letting me use his Big Camera.

For more perspective on the vernissage and the AIWC photo group, you might also want to check out my friend C’s display and post here.

Bon weekend, everyone!!


Escadaria Selarón

When we were in Rio, we stopped at the Escadaria Selarón or Selaron Steps.   The steps have been tiled by one individual who did it as a tribute to the people of Brazil.  Jorge Selarón, the artist, was born in Chile and traveled the world before settling in Rio, in the neighborhood that contains the steps.

Gabe standing on the steps

Me on steps

Originally a painter, Selarón first started the tile project on the concrete steps near his doorstep and then grew into an obsession to complete the entire stairway.   And he has finished many times over.  Now, once he finishes an area, he re-does another.  His intention is for it never to be complete, a living artwork.

The artist is the guy in red. He was busy working while we visited and even invited us in to his house.

Our guide told us tourists bring tiles from all over the world.  Next time we are back in Rio, we’ll have to bring him one.

Related links:

The steps are featured in Snoop Dogg’s Beautiful video

Gratitude Friday: The oldest thing I’ve ever seen

This Friday, I wanted to dedicate gratitude Friday to seeing “the oldest thing I’ve ever seen”.

We stopped in Dordogne Valley of France on the way home from Bordeaux.   Dordogne is known for being a very beautiful area of France, with lovely buildings banking the Dordogne river.

Image courtesy of French property

The Dordogne is also known for being the home of many one-of-a-kind prehistoric caves.We decided to visit Rouffignac Cave, which included drawings that were over 15,000 years old.

We arrived to the site at 11:50.  They closed for lunch from noon until 2pm.  It is France, after all. The fellow warned me I might want to come back early to get in line, however.

There was talk that maybe we should hit another cave instead. However, we researched and found that most other caves either required advance reservations or were also closed at lunch.  We were so remote that it would take awhile to get to another location.

After a sandwich pit stop, we came back at 1pm.  There were already 30 people there.  At 1:30pm, a line had started to queue which we quickly jumped into.  There were at least 100 people in line when the place re-opened at 2pm.  We luckily got into the first tour.

We boarded a mini train and started our journey.  The cave continues for over 10km, but our journey kept us at the first kilometer, where most of the drawings were.  Nowadays, you have to go on train and no photography is allowed.  This is because they discovered visitors were having a bad affect on the preservation of the artwork located in the cave.

Image, courtesy of

One of the first things we saw were mammoth etchings.  They were made with a sharp object, and carved into the cave wall just below the ceiling and rock nodules covering the cave ceiling.

Mammoth etching image courtesy of

We weren’t allowed to take photographs, but our guide showed us with a special light the outlines.  Sort of like this:

Image courtesy of

Our train continued and then we were able to see the three rhino frieze.   It was breathtaking.

Image Courtesy of Flickr photosteam of Gleinster1936

Following was a 10 mammoth freeze, where 5 mammoths were standing off vs. another 5 mammoths.  Most of the artwork in nearby caves doesn’t include mammoths.  This is why Rouffignac is particularly special due to the inclusion of this long-instinct species.

More mammoths, image courtesy of

Lastly, they took us into the great room, where there were dozens of images overlapping, mammoths, horses, rhinos.  The room was shallow, but they hollowed the floor to allow for tourists to stand underneath.

Ceiling image courtesy of

The guide pointed out that cave drawings weren’t discovered until the late 1800’s.   And details on mammoths weren’t fully understood until the 1950’s when excavations found the remains in Siberia, thus helping develop the scientific understanding.  These drawings had details on the animals someone couldn’t possibly know who wasn’t living at the time.  So, they were able to prove and data the history of these magnificent drawings.

I still am in awe that I was able to see that in my lifetime.  What a cool experience.  This area isn’t that accessible, so it truly is because of our living arrangement in relatively nearby Geneva that we were able to get there.  Also, a big thanks to Schwingen in Switzerland for driving us.  It was truly magnificent, and I am thankful to have seen it.

Bon weekend, everyone!

Provençal Hospitality at La Maison de Françoise.

While we were in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, we stayed at a very lovely B & B, La Maison de Françoise.   It is operated by husband and wife, Bruno and Françoise.   It is rare that I do a post exclusively on a hotel room, but this was a special place.

We really enjoyed the grounds of their estate.  Everything was thoughtfully done, from the gardens to the sitting rooms.

It was lovely chatting with the couple.

Lovely grounds of La Maison de Francoise

The pool…notice how all in Provence must be above ground due to the craggy rock soil?

Conversation areas

Our little room was on the top floor of this farmhouse

Our doorway

Rapunzel…let your hair down. Just kidding, he was upstairs working and I was beckoning him.

Breakfast was

Breakfast was coffee, fresh squeezed juice, and a basket of Provençal pastries and breads with confiture.

We’d certainly recommend this gem for your next trip to Provence.

La Maison de Françoise

60 avenue Albert Schweitzer

13210 Saint Rémy de Provence – France

Tél : 33(0)

Painting for Jake

I haven’t been painting a lot lately.    Thus, when I was asked to donate a painting for the Annual Jake Boyle Memorial Golf Tournament again this year, I offered one that I did last year in Umbria, Italy.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t get “Dusk in Umbria” it into E-dawg’s suitcase to deliver back to The States.  Shipping the canvas from Switerland would be over 100 CHF which sort of defeats the purpose of a charity give-away….

So, today, I did a small 9″ x 12″ acrylic that can easily fit into the next suitcase that will go Geneva –> Charlotte*.   Unfortunately, an “I owe U” will have to do for the silent auction.  Sorry guys!

Recognize my inspiration?  Yes, none other than the Fête de la Tulipe we visited in Morges last week.

The reception & auction will be at Havana Social Club in Huntersville, NC this Saturday – 2-5pm Eastern Time.     Wishing them a beautiful day and a great one on the fundraising front.  I’ll be missing them for sure.

*Anyone who would like to volunteer to take the canvas with them on their next trip back to Huntersville or Charlotte, it would be greatly appreciated!!

Gratitude Friday: Stepping into a Van Gogh Painting

Post by Lauren

We added Arles to our list because we knew The Gladiator would like its Roman history.  Arles has a Roman arena in marvelous shape.

However, I also was jazzed about hitting this UNESCO world heritage city because my favorite artist spent a stint of time here and credited it to be the most inspiring place of his career.  Thus, I am making our visit this weeks’ gratitude post.

Upon arrival, we stopped at Hotel Dieu, the hospital where Van Gogh recuperated after he cut off his ear.  We had learned in the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam that this incident was likely out of anger during a fight with fellow artist and object of his obsession, Gauguin.  Some say it was actually Gauguin who mistakenly cut off the ear in a sword fight and Van Gogh covered it up to protect Gauguin.  Only the dark streets of Arles can be sure.

Nonetheless, after the ear was no more, Van Gogh ended up at Hotel Dieu.  It was really neat for me to see this courtyard.  I instantly recognized it from a few paintings he did during his stay.

Espace Van Gogh, site of the Hotel Dieu, hospital where Van Gogh recovered

Later, we enjoyed an amazing dinner al fresco at Café Apostrophe in the Place du Forum.  I  say it was amazing because Gabe and I each both ordered a marvelous bone-in steak. We aren’t used to good quality beef in Switzerland.  It is typically small, expensive, and underwhelming.    We tend to get excited for eating out in other countries and Arles didn’t disappoint.

A highlight for me beyond the steak was sitting in sight of the café in the scene of the Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night. About the night cafe, Van Gogh said, “”I have tried to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad, or commit a crime.” (source: Wikipedia)

Recognize this scene? The Café - taken with my own camera - the source of my goosebumps!

When I was learning to paint in college, this was the second Van Gogh that I imitated, trying to recreate his brushstrokes in effort to learn the impressionistic style.  I have been lucky enough to travel to other cities that have been the scenes to famous paintings.  However, standing in sight of this little café in Arles sent chills up my spine.

The cafe one that I speak about is in the top left, but also included below are some additional paintings that Van Gogh did while in Arles:

Images courtesy of Wikipedia Commons


In addition to the Van Gogh sights, Mama Mia, The Gladiator, Gabe and I visited Les Arènes, the ancient Roman amphitheater.   Arles thrived during Roman times.  So much so that they needed a stadium to hold 20,000.  In this stadium were executions, bullfights and other gory events of which the Romans were enamored.


Les Arènes

After the fall of Rome, Les Arènes remained but transitioned into a fortress and then later an entire town fit within it’s protection.

Les Arènes, circa 18th century. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Les Arènes is still used today for shows and bullfights.

Throughout the trip, we also enjoyed strolling down Arles beautiful streets and window shopping.    Mama Mia and I picked up some provençal goods…linens for me, and some souvenirs and gifts for her.   However, we all just enjoyed walking along taking in Arles. To me, the buildings were so gorgeous…

Streets of Arles

Arles is said to be the most creative portion of Van Gogh’s career.   Now, I see why Van Gogh liked it so much.  I am grateful to have experienced it myself.

Bon weekend, everyone!


Post by Lauren

Italy was high on the list for the family to see while they were here.   We considered going to Venice but our schedule was already packed as it was.  With Venice being 7 hours on the train, we opted for going to Milan instead as it is only 4 hours from Geneva.  We thought 14 hours would be overkill, especially since we’d done about 20 hours on the train thus far into the trip.

Direct trains leave Geneva twice a day for Milan – 7:42am and 1:42pm.  We picked the early train so that we could maximize our time.

We arrived in Milan just around lunch time and started to figure out how to take the metro and get euros out for the group.  We spent about 2 hours in the Milan train station trying to navigate.  Hello Italy and chaos!  As it turned out, we couldn’t take the metro with the wheelchairs – only steep stairs provided access – so we hopped in two cabs to take us to the city centre.

It took us a little while to find our hotel, but when we did find it we were rewarded greatly.  Gabe had done the research and found apartments nearby the Duomo.  Little did we realize that the view would be this good:

Glamour Apartments in Milan. Mama Mia, Sweet Wine and The French Cougar loved the marble bathrooms.

After marveling over the stately bathrooms and a quick lesson on bidets (see S in S for more), we dropped our bags and headed out for lunch.  We found a nice café directly in front of the Duomo and settled in for some wine and pizza.

Pizza lunch in Milan

Italy's best....gelato!!

The Gladiator's favorite part about Italy

Hanging out in Piazza del Duomo

After lunch, we grabbed some gelato, and Gabe took Sweet Wine, The Gladiator and French Cougar to the tour office to see if we could arrange something for the next day.  We had another small snippet of Italian chaos when some guy passing by stole The Gladiators sunglasses that he had left on the grass.   Mama Mia and I really couldn’t chase him down in our wheelchairs, so Dunkel saved the day by chasing after the guy who gave them back.

After a little bit of free time exploring, we met up for walking to a close-by restaurant, Al Mercante, recommended by a few folks.  It was family owned, cozy and welcoming.  We ordered in the typical Italian way, with a primi and a secondi.  In Italy, this is customary – to start with a pasta and then move onto a meat or fish dish.  Real Italians also add on an antipasti prior, but our tummies weren’t conditioned to this treatment yet so we just left it with the two courses.   However, some of us did participate in dolci, dessert.  Special thanks to Sweet Wine for treating Gabe and I to this marvelous meal.

The next day, after breakfast, we took a guided tour.  The guide, Esther, was quite good.  We’d recommend her for anyone traveling to Milan.  We navigated through the thousands of soccer fans in Milan for the Milano vs. Barcelona match happening later that night.

Dunkel, embracing the soccer spirit

Our first stop was the Duomo.  We learned that it took 500 years to complete, constructed between 1300 and 1800 AD.  The Duomo of Milan  is the world’s 3rd largest church (behind the Vatican and Sevilla).

Waiting to enter the Duomo of Milan after learning that "an Italian 5 minutes" really means 15. Not very Swiss.

The Duomo of Milan was styled after Notre Dame of Paris, built 200 years later.  It can contain 5 times the people however, at 40,000.  It is a Gothic style and has 3000 statues.

Duomo of Milan

There are 91 masses a week.  However, no weddings or funerals with the exception of very important events.  Versace’s funeral took place here in the Duomo of Milan.

One of the Duomo’s most notorious events took place in 1805, Napoleon ordered the Pope to come to Milan and crown him.  No one had ever ordered the Pope to travel before.

The marble used inside and out came from Lake Maggiore, outside of Milan.  Back then, it was quite important that it was a local source because of the difficulties of transportation.  As I mentioned, the marble used outside is the same as inside.  However, inside, the marble is dark.  Because of the current economic crisis in Italy, they cannot afford the expense of cleaning it inside.

The inside of the Duomo, 2012

After learning about the marble, we studied the stained glass.   Esther taught us that before the Catholics who attended the Duomo could read & write, that stained class told stories of the bible.  This particular scene details the life of Jesus Christ.

Some arts don’t improve with technology.  Esther said that today, designers are still not able to recreate the blue color that the talented craftsman achieved in the 15th Century.

Stained glass in Duomo of Milan, circa 1450 AD, telling the story of Jesus Christ's life.

After the Duomo, we continued on through the Galleria, the “living room of Milan”.  Gabe and I had discovered it the day before so enjoyed the second look.  We saw the original Prada, which will celebrate 100 years next year.  Speaking of the devil, our guide had the pleasure of touring Meryl Streep herself when she visited Milan. She said she was a very nice person.

Galleria, Milan

The original Prada store, Galleria, Milan

Next was La Scala, the famous opera house in Milan.  It was finished in 1778.  Esther listed three reasons it was so famous:

-the superior technical / sound accoustics

-the history, particularly Giuseppe Verdi, the talented composer who put the crack-down on the social antics of the Milan well-to-do when attending the opera

-the fact that success in the Scala gives you an international passport for your music career

The final stop was The Last Supper.   This was my favorite stop.  Until recently, I didn’t know that The Last Supper was painted on an actual wall.  It was done in the dining room of the monks in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in a style like a fresco.  During WWII, the church was bombed and the adjacent wall crumbled and so The Last Supper barely escaped.  It is now a UNESCO world heritage site.

They are very protective of the painting, with due cause, so we had to go through three independent air-conditioning chambers before we were let in the dining room.

Last Supper courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

It was simply amazing to witness Da Vinci’s perspective compared to the other art that day. If you stand back in the dining hall of the monks, the scene seems to go on endlessly.  Noticing the other painting opposite the room, which was painted during the same time, the perspective and depth simply wasn’t there.  It was a new concept which made Da Vinci stand out as an artist.

Also of note is Da Vinci’s use of emotion in The Last Supper.  Previous artists had used the same faces for all of the apostles.  In order to differentiate Judas, they put him farthest away from Jesus.

However, in his rendition, Da Vinci focused on the emotion of the men at the moment when Jesus announced that one of those at the table was going to betray him. Disciples are grouped in threes for further examination, each with different reactions.  Judas is now depicted in the middle of all of them, fairly close to Jesus; however, he is in the dark, not the light.

What a treat, especially a week before Maudy Thursday to experience this painting.

Ciao Milan!

Gratitude Friday: Four Hours

Post by Lauren

When we lived in North Carolina and Georgia, we could get to some pretty amazing places in four hours.  In that time, we could visit family in Virginia, check out North Georgia apple orchards, visit some vineyards and catch some NC mountain action.

However, here in Geneva, in four hours driving time, we can find ourselves what seems to be a world away.   We realized this even more when Gabe’s family was here and we did a lot of day trips.  Here are a few examples:

A 3.5 hour train ride or drive can put you in Zermatt, home of the Matterhorn. Just cross your fingers for visibility!

A 4-ish hour drive can put you in the 2nd smallest principality in the world: jet setting luxurious Monaco.

A 3.5 hour drive puts you near Nîmes where you can find evidence of the Roman times - the Pont du Gard aqueduct built in 19 BC and a UNESCO world heritage site.

A 4 hour train ride can put you in the heart of Andermatt where you'll feel like you are in a snow globe....even in April!

A 4ish hour ride can take you to the South of France to gaze on the magnificent cliffs overlooking Cassis.

A 3.5 hour drive can put you in the heart of Arles, France where you can find yourself in the middle of a Van Gogh scene.

A 4-ish hour drive can take you to Nice where you can walk along the beautiful Promenade d'Anglais and watch the sunset.

A four hour train can take you to Milan where you can eat your fill of pasta, gelato and experience the liveliness of Italy alongside of appreciating The Duomo & The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci.

A four hour ride can have you in Cannes where the famous film festival takes place each May.

Look for posts in the coming days on each of these places we visited with Gabe’s family.

Until then, I am grateful for our location to be “four hours” from all these magnificent sites and the recovery of my feet so that I could keep up. Thank goodness for the wheelchair!

Gratitude Friday: Art

Post by Lauren

This Friday, I am grateful that the winter market I am participating in is tomorrow – – that means, I’m almost done! I have been working hard on getting original paintings, handmade jewelry and greeting cards ready for my little “Designs by Lauren” booth.

Getting ready for the exhibit this Fall has been a great way to practice creativity. Regardless if I sell anything or not, I am glad for the experience and time that I have had to explore my favorite hobby. It’s always been a dream of mine to have more time for being creative in whatever form it takes and now I have it.

So thus, I am also very thankful for our ex-pat situation and my awesome husband’s support. He’s the reason why I get to have this chance so again I have found another reason to be grateful for him :). It’s not hard.

I wanted to share some of the paintings as its a good recap of some of the great places we’ve had the opportunity to travel

*Note: sorry that when we converted to wordpress, the links are not working.