Tuesday, April 30, 2013

BEHOLD: A Definition

Last Tuesday I reviewed "Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice," by Christine Valters Paintner. (If you missed that post, you can find it here.) This Tuesday and for the following 3 weeks, I'll share some of my experiences with the book's tools and practices. Today we start with BEHOLD, a way of seeing. Christine defines it as 'holding something in your gaze. It is not a stare or a quick glance. It has a slow, spacious quality to it.'

Behold is written many times in scripture. It seems to me to be polite 'angel-speak' for "listen up" or "pay attention,  we're about to announce something important." When we BEHOLD through the camera lens, we listen up with our eyes, knowing that the Creator is showing us something we should pay attention to. Notice that I didn't say that we are shown something we need to shoot or capture. No, contemplative photography is about what an image stirs within us, what it beckons us to ponder or revel in. We create nothing with the image; the image creates within us.

I liken it to quietly watching a beautiful sunrise or sunset. We drink in the wonder of it We swirl it around in our hearts while we watch it change minute-by-minute. We savor, we appreciate. We may even say a little prayer of thanks, knowing a higher power than us created it. We BEHOLD, and we are moved.

Sometimes our eyes are drawn to that which is not beautiful, though. A photographer would dismiss this un-pretty image as not worthy of a shot. A contemplative, however, would BEHOLD, gaze in wonder and ask why. Why does this image shimmer for me? Why am I asked to BEHOLD it? There is nothing beautiful about a fallen tree being swept downstream by a murky, dirty river, bank-full with spring run-off. Yet, as I ponder the questions, answers begin to come and stories begin to swirl in my mind.

The true beauty of BEHOLD, though, is that which draws my eye will be different than that which draws yours. Even if we both BEHOLD the same image, we will 'see' it with our hearts in different ways. Contemplative photography, then, becomes a most private and intimate journey into our personal spirituality.

If you are interested in learning more or purchasing "Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice"  please click here. 

Monday, April 29, 2013


I don't have a television...haven't had one for almost 3 years. I don't miss it one bit! I can watch DVD's on my laptop. I watch short videos on YouTube and other video sites. And I read...a lot. I keep a list of what I've read since I found myself re-reading books I thought were new. From Oct. 2011 to now, I've read over 100 books, and this isn't counting the ones I've started and not finished because they're crap (think 'Fifty Shades of Gray'!) All my English-speaking friends pass books around. I also buy used books on Amazon.fr along with an occasional e-book. My village library has a very small selection of books in English, most of which I've either read or aren't my taste. Finding books in English in the local shops is almost impossible. So, I'm always on the look out for new books to read. This weekend I found another avenue to obtain some...the book swap.

This one took place in Sauliac-sur-Cele only about a 20 minute drive from my village. I took four books to swap and came home with four new ones. I could have taken many more. The man at the door invited me to 'take all you want!' The event drew around 50 people during the afternoon, mostly English-speaking expats, but a few French folks as well as there was a table of books in French. It was a pleasant way to spend a rainy afternoon!
Here are the books that came home with me. I started "The Olive Farm" by Carol Drinkwater last evening. I'm impressed with it, and I'm pretty picky about books about Provence. When I read both of hers, I may do a book review post about them.

One reason for my trek to this book swap was a man I'm acquainted with who lives in Sauliac-sur-Cele. He's put together a book that he was selling yesterday. Look for a post about him and his book later this week.

Friday, April 26, 2013


We call them lilacs in the States; the French call them lilas. Whatever their name, their perfume is bewitching!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

From the Archives: Provence

Thinking of Provence today...beautiful light, the scent of lavender, and the bright colors of the market--red.orange, ochre, olive green.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Eyes of the Heart

I've blogged before about my favorite creative expression/spirituality website, Abbey of the Arts. You may remember that I have participated in more than one of the Abbey's online classes and retreats, the most recent being a Lenten retreat based on the writings of Hildegard of Bingen. The website's creator, Christine Valters Paintner has just published a new book, "Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Contemplative Practice," which I was privileged to read digitally before publication and am equally privileged to review here

Christine's book focuses on photography as an expressive art that can both deepen our awareness of the world we live in and also enrich our spiritual practice. In her words..
"Photography as a spiritual practice combines the act of image-receiving with the contemplative nature and open-heartedness of prayer."
 Divided into chapters that enable the reader to explore such topics as light and shadow, color, what's hidden and what's revealed, the book not only explains viewing the world through the camera lens in a different way, but also gives the reader practices and tools to utilize in exploring photography as part of a personal spiritual journey. These practices enrich both the spiritual and the creative expression of photography. This is not a technical book to teach you  how to be a better photographer. Rather it's a guide to help you explore the creative process of prayerfully receiving images. If you are a contemplative person, Christine shows you ways to deepen your spiritual practice. If you are a photographer searching for ways to free yourself from the box of 'taking/shooting/capturing' pictures, Christine invites you to see with a softer gaze and to sink into the process instead of targeting only the finished product.

I found the book both very readable and very thought-provoking. As a person who wants to create beautiful photographs, I found myself challenged to release that expectation and just let myself be gifted with whatever appeared in my view finder. One of the most difficult changes I encountered was shifting the language with which we speak about photography. Think about how you describe photography..taking photos, shooting an image, capturing a shot or light or action. Very aggressive words that describe definitive actions, planning, and specific expectations of a result. Christine speaks only of image-receiving; images that pull us to them as gifts given by a Higher Power for our enjoyment or edification. She invites the reader to be open with a soft focus on the world and to let the process unfold itself in a prayerful manner.

I've read the book through once and am now reading it again, this time doing the practices and exercises that Christine offers. As I complete them, I'll share some of my reflections with you. So, for the next few weeks, look for the word BEHOLD in the post title; this will be the label for each exercise I share. And the first one will be about what it means to BEHOLD the world.

You can purchase the book here:
Ave Maria Press
Amazon.com (via Abbey of the Arts website)
Barnes and Noble

Sunday, April 21, 2013


I knew we were in trouble when they handed us earplugs at the door! But let me back the story up a bit and tell you how we got there...

Christiane stopped me Saturday morning while I was walking Lucie and asked if I'd like to attend a music event in Figeac with her that evening. She had two complimentary tickets given to the mairie, and Jean-Paul, with the beginnings of a cold, didn't want to go. Sure! I'm always up for a French cultural adventure. She said she'd pick me up at 6:30 pm, as there was not assigned seating, and we'd want to get there a little early to get a good seat. No assigned seating should have been our first clue...

I googled the event name, Roots, and discovered it would be an evening of reggae music by four groups of  American performers. We arrived at Espace Mitterand and found the doors barred. Although the tickets gave a 7:30 pm start time, the girl at the door said that was when the doors would open; the music wouldn't start until after 8 pm. We passed the time being entertained by a very inebriated man who kept trying to get in the doors early, a couple of times by using us freezing women as an excuse. He sorely tried the patience of the security guards as they gently, but firmly, kept escorting him back behind the barriers.

So, 7:30 pm arrived, and they let us in handing us the earplugs as we entered. We selected comfy seats,.and Christiane remarked that she thought the large empty space in front of the stage was probably in case anyone wanted to dance. Another clue had we been alert to it. We waited. Rock music blared. Photos of musicians were projected on a large screen. Lights strobed. The smoke machine spewed. The smoke machine?? We waited. Several men arranged, rearranged, checked and rechecked instruments, speakers, and lights. We waited some more. I asked Christiane where all the people were as only a handful had entered the performance hall. She shrugged an "I don't know" answer. And still we waited.

Sometime after 8:30 pm people began drifting in. It was like they possessed some sort of concert instinct that neither Christiane or I had. They seemed to intuitively know that the musicians were about to walk on stage. Which they did to flashing lights, pounding music, smoke and wild, soulful singing! The concert had begun! And that empty space was soon filled with shoulder-to-shoulder jumping, clapping, arm-waving, singing fans. We were in the very heart of a full-blown rock concert. It was fabulous...and loud. While I did spot some other concert-goers of our generation (all of them sitting in the comfy seats), most of the crowd (all of them standing) looked to be under 30 and 'way into the music.

Between groups, the hall emptied again. Christiane reported, after a trip to the loo, that they were all outside smoking in the designated smoking area. We listened to the first group, lead by Angelo Moore of Fishbone, which sounded like a combination of Chicago and James Brown; I liked it a lot and so did Christiane. The second group was headlined by Pat Kelly, a famous Jamaican reggae singer; we like them as well. The third group turned out to a techno band; neither of us liked them very much. So, halfway through their set, we decided to leave. It was already midnight, and there was another whole group to go. They may still be rocking at the Espace Mitterand for all I know! This was definitely a French cultural adventure.
This is a taste of our evening. The sound isn't the best.  The music really did sound better than this.At the end of the clip, you'll see that  the musicians had left the stage and were playing in a circle in the middle of the crowd. It was a wild time! As Christiane said, this was a great concert for me...I actually understood the lyrics (and knew some of the songs) since it was all in English. It's been a whole lot of years since I've been to a rock concert. I think the last one was in the early 1990s when I dragged Travis and his girlfriend, Kristy, to the first (of many) comeback tours of the Rolling Stones. The rules have changed a bit, but the music is still loud and the energy level is still sky-high....those things haven't changed. I almost wished I was 20-something again, down there in front of the band, jumping and singing along.

 I'm really tired today...wonder why.

Friday, April 19, 2013

In Remembrance of Dali...

My friend, Laury, lost her beloved canine companion, Dali, yesterday. After fourteen years together, it's left a huge hole in her heart. Lucie and I join in mourning Dali's passing. She spent a few months living with us while Laury was working the past two years. She became part of our 'family' as well. Dal had quite a life, though. How many dogs get to call both New Orleans and France home? She will certainly be missed.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

River Walk

I had a few errands to run in Cajarc yesterday morning, so I put Lucie in the car with me, and off we went. After stops at the pharmacy and the gas pump, we took one of my favorite walks along the river at the Cajarc waterfront. (Lucie is never bored with our morning walks around the village, but I occasionally need a little fresh scenery!) It's fun to walk here in the spring and see what's blooming and greening and waking up after a long winter and a very wet spring. Sure enough, all the little vegetable gardens are coming to life, their earth dug and tilled and ready for planting. A few things are already beginning to come up...some early lettuces, a row of onions here and there. Bulbs are blooming.

Not everything survived the winter, though. This big tree, one of many along the river's edge, fell victim to the high waters from all the rain this spring.
But there were enough bright spots of spring color to remind me that trees toppling are always balanced by flowers blooming.

I was back here at the river again this morning when our Wednesday exercise class walked over to 'faire de les gymnastiques' (do our exercises) outside in the warm spring  sunshine. I love it that the French will find any excuse to be outside enjoying the beautiful weather!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Looks familiar, right? You need to put gas in your car. You want to use your debit card. You know how it works in the States. Works the same here in France, right? Wrong! It took me several tries the first time I used my French debit card to get it right. I kept swiping it...like you do in the States...and nothing would happen. Finally, I figured it out. You don't swipe it; you put it in and leave it. Takes a few seconds. In fact, the screen displays this message "Patientez" (Be patient). When it finally recognizes that someone has put a card in it,  it asks you what kind of gas you'd like...

I have 'gazole' burned into my brain. My car is diesel, and this is what diesel gas is called in France. In case you're interested, it's pronounced 'gaz-wall.' Anyway, I don't want to ever make the same mistake some friends made a few years ago when they put the wrong kind of gas in their French rental car. Not a good day for them! So, you push the appropriate button. In my case, the 'gazole' one. Then you wait...patientez again.

 After being 'patientez' a while longer, the machine asks for your code. Are you surprised that you must be 'patientez' once again? Voila...your code is 'bon" (good), so then you are told how many euros you're entitled to spend. Mine always says 198, but thank goodness, I usually only spend 30 euros. One more question to answer before you begin pumping, though. Do you want a receipt ticket? You must answer this question before you receive your final message 'retirez votre carte' (remove your card). Like a lot of things in France, using your debit card for gas is not a quick and easy process. But 'c'est la vie!'

Don't even get me started on trying to figure out gas mileage. How many liters per kilometer? How do you convert that to miles per gallon? Do I even want to know??

Sunday, April 14, 2013


After more weeks than I care to remember, we've finally had two days in a row of cloudless blue skies and brilliant warm sunshine. My village has regained its normal good humor, and yesterday's market in Cajarc was quite lively. I met a friend at 4 pm here at Le President, and we sat on the terrace soaking up the sun (and sipping adult beverages!) until almost 6 pm. It was glorious! I even came home with pink cheeks...from the sun, not the kir I drank. The terrace was full, we were greeted by many people we knew, and were entertained by children zipping by on their scooters, bikes and skates. It's amazing how a little sun improves everyone's attitude!

Friday, April 12, 2013

What's Inside?

There's a certain point on the road when the Chateau always catches my eye. It's right here; the place where I can see through it to the window on its other side. No drapes, just light streaming in from both windows, one facing east, the other west. And every time I see it, I think the same thought: "I wonder what's between those two windows!" Maybe some day I'll know what's inside.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

From the Archives: Bouquinistes

I'll be in Paris in a little over a month. When I think about strolling along the Seine, browsing through the bouquinistes, my heart feels all happy. The only thing I like better than a bookstore is shopping for books at these second-hand book stalls in my favorite city. Naughty postcards...you can find them here. Antique maps...here as well. Prints, posters, lithographs...any subject you want. Books...but, of course. What treasures might I discover?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

La Gabelle: The Salt Tax

A cold wind with a temperature of 8 C. made the market yesterday afternoon quite unpleasant. I had made plans to meet Caroline for a coffee at Le President around 3 pm, so when I had finished buying veggies and still didn't see her, I decided to duck into the new brocante next to the patisserie to get out of the cold. I had no intention of buying anything. That good intention flew out the window when I spied this plate. I loved the scalloped edge and the fleur-de-lis around it. The crown and the green and white checkerboard also appealed to me. Not real crazy about the lions, but I bought it anyway. What was really intriguing, though, was its backside....

No doubt about its provenance...it was made by M. Schoff in 1899. Being ever curious, I was determined to find out what I could about Francois Porcher in whose honor it was made. It appears that he was a counselor to the king and also president of the grenier a sel (salt granary) in La Chatre in 1698. La Chatre is a town in the Indre department about 300 kms due south of Paris. Other than to verify that this person actually existed, I'm not able to find out anything more specific about him. But I did learn some fascinating things about salt in my internet sleuthing.

Salt, as we know, is necessary for both people and animals. Before refrigeration, it was also a common way to preserve food and was a vital piece of every country's economy. In 17th century France, all salt had to be sold to a grenier a sel, a designated salt broker in each area. The grenier a sel set the salt's price, and then resold it at a higher rate to retailers. The salt was very heavily taxed. And each person was required by law to buy a certain amount of it each year, making it impossible to avoid paying this hated tax. Each region's tax was set at a different rate, so it was tempting for people to smuggle cheaper, illegal salt into their area for either their own use or for re-sale. Vicious penalties for smuggling, including death, made that a risky idea, though. Everyone had to pay the tax...except  the nobility, of course. Special counselors, like M. Porcher, were appointed to make sure this tax was collected in their region and that the buying and selling of salt was controlled by the Crown. In the employ of the King and also making money by re-selling salt to retailers, I think M. Porcher would have been a very wealthy man! The salt tax, la gabelle, not only helped keep many kings solvent, it also allowed them to live in luxury and excess.  Repeal of this oppressive salt tax was a leading motive behind the French Revolution almost a hundred years later!

The things you can learn from a pretty plate!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Make a Guess

My friends who live in France may know what this is. How about anyone else? Want to make a guess?

(sorry, no prize for winning, but if you know the answer, you are a true francophile!)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Recycled Flowers

My friends, Maggie and Bill, come to their home in Promilhanes a couple of times a year staying about a month each time. Maggie always fills her flower boxes with flowers while she's here--it makes their house so pretty even if it's only for a brief time. When they got ready to leave the end of March, Maggie asked if I'd like her pansies since they will probably be dead by the time she and Bill return. YES! So, Monday I scooped them up on my way to Caylus and planted them that afternoon. Just in time to catch yesterday's rainfall which settled them in nicely. Now my terrace is pretty, too.  I love recycled flowers!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Cazelles and Gariottes

Dedou at Mas de Meric
Our fascinating day last week exploring 19th century France began here with Dedou and the photos he's collected of over 400 stone structures in the commune of Promilhanes. It's amazing to think there are this many in this small area alone. The structures are called either cazelles or gariottes. As Dedou explained. cazelles are the small stone buildings with wooden door frames and lintels, while gariottes are built without these wood additions. As the peasants cleared their rocky fields, they used the stone to build the dry stone walls you see everywhere here on the causse. Almost every field also had a small stone structure for the shepherd or farmer to use in bad weather or as a place to rest, have a bite to eat and watch over his livestock. Many of the cazelles and gariottes are built right into the walls, while some are free standing.

Sue, Trevor, Maggie and Bill admiring over 400 photos of stone huts.
This is a free-standing cazelle in a field near Promilhanes. Note the wood lintel and door frame

If you are interested in viewing the exhibit of photos, the walnut press and the bee house, they will be open for touring during patrimony days the third weekend of June, i.e. the 15th and 16th. You can access the website (in French) here , where additional details will be available soon