My first drawing was of Red Sonja. Not a terrible subject; just not typical! That defines me in a nutshell! Haha. So what do you think? Not too bad for a novice! Trust me, I was equally shocked I could draw. I always loved art and drama. It was my best subject in school along with biology. My cell drawings were top notch! But no one ever saw a talent that would send me on an artist’s career path; I certainly never did. We weren’t an overly artsy family. My family were hard workers, blue collar I believe, although where I come from we don’t use terms like that.
When I was less than 10 years old my sister and I would write plays and have shows. They are some of the clearest memories I have of being a kid. On the flipside, I also had a science lab under our basement stairs. I was proof that art and science can go nicely together. I asked my mother to give me the chicken liver, kidneys and heart from any roast chicken that was on the way to our table. I dissected them :)) Man did I know how to have fun or what??? Forget Barbie, give me a chicken heart! I was odd, did I mention that? Ha!!!
Ok, so let me explain how Red Sonja came to be…
Recall “Bored in Paris”? Well, armed with my first sketch pad, a few carefully chosen graphite pencils, and a new found sense of excitement I hadn’t felt in yonks, I quickly made it back to our freezing, yet cute, in a poor student way, French “closet” – It was so small that it came to be known as our closet rather than our apartment. The building was typical early 20th century French architecture next to the corner of Ave. Andre Morizet and blvd Generale LeClerc in Boulogne Billancourt; Adjacent to the metro exit Marcel Sembat on the M9.
Did I mention how small our apartment was??? While perched on the toilet you could soak your feet in the shower basin. Wait, was there a basin? Ok, maybe my feet were in on the shower tiles cause I’m pretty sure there was a hole in the floor to drain the water. The kitchen (and bathroom) was basically a hallway between the front door and the “living room/dining room/bedroom”; our bed, dubbed “the hammock”, doubled as an extra chair for our “livdinbeding room” – my brain likes making up words and this one truly classifies our only living space that was maybe 2.5m x 1.5m. The bed was a single bed without proper structure to hold one person up, let alone two! Hence the hammock! And yes, we both slept in it. Good thing we were madly in love! And I literally mean that the kitchen and bathroom were in a short hallway between our livdinbeding room and the front door; Someone decided to throw a kitchen and bathroom in the hallway and call it an apartment. We developed a habit of knocking on the front door before entering because if you opened the front door and someone was coming out of the shower or toilet you could whack ’em, bonk, right in the mind! Haha
Europeans amaze me in that they really know how to make good use of every scrap of space. It was beyond tiny, maybe minuscule is a better word, but it was home for 3 months. One amazing thing was the procession of people that came to stay with us. This was astounding given that there wasn’t anywhere for anyone to lie down and have a sensible sleep and we all had to dance around each other to move! It was glorious all the same and we had the best time. We paid 5 francs for our wine, Le Gamay! Ahhhhh! Good times indeed.
When visitors were with us it was fun and exciting, but alone there, while Chris worked, it could be dreary and dull. Which brings me to the point of all this mundane detail describing our Closet, besides to entertain you! There wasn’t much to do in our little bitty Closet; our small slice of Parisian living. It was a boring, cloudy and grey day like most days in the Fall and winter, and it was freezing too. Plus, there wouldn’t be heat in our building (radiator) until November and it was only the end of September! Now that you are familiar with how draughty and icy cold our Closet was, you’ll see exactly why I needed to get out and find a warm cafe and have a cafe creme bien chaud!! Honestly, I’m not exaggerating, it was THAT cold that a barrage of complaints poured out from all the tenants, so the owner decided to install electric heaters. Now we would have to pay the bill for any heating outside the “normale” season! Sooooo French!! But on this day, when I found the art shop, I was blindingly bored and frozen down to my toes; they couldn’t move! Isn’t it amazing how such mundane things can lead you to events that change you forever?
When I finally returned to our Closet bursting to use my new art tools, the only thing interesting to sketch was Red Sonja on a book cover, or so I thought. There were only two books in our petit Closet, The Hobbit and Red Sonja. I read both on my first day of utter boredom – ok, just know that I was coming out of work mode and I failed to see that exploring a new city was more exciting than work. Also, I didn’t know I’d become obsessed with art! A whole city filled with art lay before me and I was ignorant. I was also alone and paralysingly afraid that I’d be robbed or worse!!! I might get lost! GAWD!! I had very little money and without Chris or my lab work I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was a shell, a hollow vessel needing to be filled.
Within days I had moved on to drawing still life. We had nice cookery and Parisian flowers, produce and wine were cheap, but made nice still life….for a beginner. I framed some things using our only French-style window in the livdinbeding room. Here’s a couple of drawings I still enjoy looking at…
The mirror started speaking to me every time I saw myself. Initially, it was a whisper telling me to really see myself for once; to WAKE UP! I had to stop pleasing everyone and live my own life. I put it off as boredom, but it was just me slowing down finally. I began trawling all of Paris for things to sketch and found a love of exploring the unknown. In the 19th arrondissement I did get rocks and tin cans thrown at me in the deserted park des Buttes Chaumont. I survived! ha! I hunted down the cheapest ways to get into the best museums and drew everything that caught my eye….mostly subjects that were painted or sculpted from the masters. Sadly, I lost a good bit of my early work.
WOW! I had found happiness and it had been in me all the time. The missing parts of me were found, but I wasn’t aware of it at the time. Only, I knew I felt contented and peaceful for the first time in my life. What’s the moral of my story? Don’t be afraid, especially of taking the time to go where your feet want to take you. Give up planning even for a short while because you never know what’s waiting for you around a corner. I was looking for a cosy cafe and I found an art store and was forever changed. Like a magnet, it drew my metallic-like feet inside. I had never been in a real art store before and I felt like a fake. It was like wearing square shoes that rubbed and felt uncomfortable, but you wear them because they’re gorgeous and you feel great inside. Plus, it takes time for new shoes to mould to your feet. So put on those square shoes and just go!
I hope you enjoyed my short story. Thanks for reading!!
Oh! And our hammock got switched out near the end of our three month stay, but that’s a whole other miraculous story to come. When I get around to telling you about it, you’ll know why I chose the word “miraculous”!