wherever i lay my hydrant, that’s my rome

Hydrant in RomeRome Hydrant sm

Almost there with Rome! Rome wasn’t blogged about in a day, but this will be the last one, much shorter and with less complaining. Above are a couple of fire hydrants! I was pleased to discover some in Rome, add them to my collection. Not many, but here they are. Rome is also well known for its fountains, not just the grand ones in the piazzas, but also the smaller ones dotted around the streets with drinking water for anyone who gets thirsty in those heavy, hot Roman afternoons. So I sketched the one below, the man with the barrel and no nose, in Via Lata. Next to that is a very quick perspective sketch just off of that street.

Rome noseless fountain sm

Now one fountain I did not sketch, you will have noticed, was the world-famous Trevi Fountain. It was very crowded there, and the surrounding streets thick with tourist-tack. Beautiful fountain, but not my favourite spot in Rome. We did nevertheless each throw a coin into the fountain, ensuring, as the legends and all the guidebooks say, that we will return to Rome. And I’m sure that we will, and I can’t wait. Arrivederci Roma!

“People called Romans they go the house”

Piazza Navonasm
While I love an early morning when travelling, I also like the night. Depends where though – I’ve never really liked Venice at night, but Rome’s piazzas, lined with warm streetside cafes, are a pleasant place to be. I didn’t go to the Trevi fountain at night, that was crazy enough during the day that I didn’t want to spend too much time there, but Piazza Navona, a short walk from our place, was much more pleasant. Doing as the Romans do is the thing to do, so I went to a cafe and bought a beer and sat on a bench near the fountains. Actually it was mostly French students doing that, but I assume they were doing as the Romans do. Actually what is funny is that since I was there, the Mayor of Rome has brought in a new local law forbidding people from drinking alcohol in those public squares and places after 10pm at night, effective July. So the Romans aren’t doing that now. We also noticed that, during the day, anybody sitting down on steps or by fountains and monuments and eating anything, even a gelato, were being quickly moved on by local wardens. Apparently this was a new law as well, enacted just a week before I got there in June, and you can get big fines for breaking it, a fact completely not signposted anywhere. I sketched the above scene, as best as I could see. Piazza Navona is in the shape of the ancient Stadium of Domitian, which used to stand on this spot in Roman times. Well I suppose these are still Roman times, this city being still called Rome. It is the Eternal City after all.

Rome People sm

A bit closer to home now. Right outside the front door of our apartment, which was itself about 120 steps up four steep flights, was a little trattoria/bar in a narrow lane just off the Pantheon. On our last night in Rome, after la famiglia had gone to bed, I walked down the stairs and sat at a table with a beer and my sketchbook, drawing Rome at night. The street is Via della Palombella, and that church, which has a stone head of a stag on top, is called Sant’Eustachio. The little Piazza before it is called, of course, Piazza Sant’Eustachio, and the cafe of the same name just across he street is where I would get my pastries in the morning. There were people strolling about, as they do, tourists and Romans on their nocturnal promenades. I sketched some of them (above), Romans going home. “Romanes eunt domus“.
Via Della Palombella sm

going back to aix

cours mirabeau

On my CV, it says that I spent a year in Provence. Technically, it was more like nine months, but ‘nine months in Provence’ sounds more like a gestation period than a reference to a famous book (and a dull TV series). Between the 2001 and 2002 I lived in Aix-en-Provence, the ancient Provencal capital, teaching at the university, eating poulet-frites, losing at the French language. Most importantly, it was during that year in Aix that I met my lovely wife. We visited a few more times in the following years, visiting old friends and old favourite places, but I hadn’t returned to Aix since moving to America ten years ago. So you can imagine my excitement as my navette from the airport pulled into town, Mont St. Victoire looming in the distance. This was only to be an overnighter, just a couple of days to check out the old place, see what has changed, explore shops I used to love, eat some of my favourite food – and SKETCH! One of the other things I must mention about my time in Aix: it was here that I rediscovered drawing.

DSC04481The first thing I sketched was one of the old moss-covered fountains on Cours Mirabeau, above. This is the main historic thoroughfare of Aix, dividing the old town from the slightly less old but still historic Quartier Mazarin. The fountain sketched above is called the Fontaine des Neuf Canons, which dates from 1691. I stood on the less busy side of the Cours, which was actually part of an ancient road running from Arles to Italy. The fountains are important; Aix gets its name from the Latin for ‘waters’, and was founded by the Romans in 122 BC as ‘Aquae Sextiae’, after the thermal springs named for the Roman consul Sextius Calvinus. All of that information leads us into the next sketch, which was made in Cours Sextius itself. Below is the fountain at the junction of Cours Sextius and Rue Van Loo (presumably a reference to another water spring). Now, I’ll provide the map of the town when I make the final Aix-sketches post, but Cours Sextius is a busy tree-lined road that runs up the eastern edge of the old town. I stood outside what was once upon a time the Bistrot Aixois (or Bistrot d’Aix), which as I recall was one of my least favourite places for a night out in Aix when I lived there. Now, it was all boarded up, oh what a shame. This view however, this will be so typical and familiar to any of you who have spent time in Aix.

cours sextius
While Aix hasn’t changed much, I was impressed with what changes there were. The old closed-down Casino at the Rotonde has now made way for a beautiful and aesthetically sound new shopping district, with the tourist office relocating to a fancy building next door, while the old tourist office building has been knocked down in favour of, well, an Apple store. Little has changed in the old town itself however, and I wandered up the long and narrow Rue des Cordeliers, which is where my wife lived when I met her. This leads up to the Place de l’Hotel de Ville, Aix’s famously photogenic square, but I wasn’t going to sketch the big clock tower just yet (I did it next day). Instead I stood and sketched Chat Rêveur, a shop I always loved in Aix. It always had lots of funny cat-themed items (I remember years ago buying a wooden cat-shaped coat-hanger, I think it was for my sister). Well it didn’t seem to have so much of that now, mostly general cards and souvenir stuff, but I was so glad it was still there that I sketched it, albeit without the full colour it deserves. It’s a beautiful shop front. The cat theme is relevant though because this square was always where we would see the ‘dog people’, who would tend to gather in the square being a bit scruffy and letting their dogs run all over the place. Sometimes they would play hand-drums (the people, not the dogs). I knew one such drummer actually, Corentin, he was a lovely bloke but he wasn’t a dog person (no dog), though he did like to climb trees if I remember correctly. Well on this evening, there were no dog people, no drums, no old friends dans les arbres.
chat reveur

The shop closed up while I was sketching, and as the warm evening drew in I wandered through old Aix, a head full of memories. Stay tuned for more sketches, stories and aix-periences to come…

en bas et en haut

Water fountain at Champ de MarsTour Eiffel

So, there are no fire hydrants in Paris. None that I could find anyway. What I did find were nice drinking fountains, such as this one nearby to the Eiffel Tower, at Champs de Mars. Oh, and look, there is La Tour Eiffel herself. I just had to grab a quick sketch, while my son played (who was so excited about seeing the Tower that he had to pretend to be a race-car for a little while and do a few laps of the park). Sketched in the Miquelrius ‘Lapin’ sketchbook. When we got to the Tower (and we didn’t go up it), it was very foggy in that Parisian way, but as we passed beneath it the fog suddenyl burned away and the sun shone, in that very Parisian way. It was lovely weather we had.

More Paris sketches to come…

to the manor born

madrona manor

I turned 33 at the weekend. We left the baby with his nana, and went to Healdsburg to stay overnight at the most excellent Madrona Manor, an madrona manor near healdsburgamazing building from the 1880s overlooking the magnificent valleys of Sonoma County. The heart of the wine country. Easily the best hotel room I’ve ever stayed in (and the door had a key, not one of those bloody card-swipe things; it was great!). The furniture was old, ornate and well-kept. It was pretty foggy and cold, but I was able to do a few drawings; I’ll have to come back up in sunnier months to draw the grounds.  We wandered about the vegetable gardens, and were encouraged to pick an orange or two from the pretty orchards by the friendly owner (and I don’t remember the last hotel I stayed at where I chatted with the owner; no soul-destroying corporation this).  And speaking of fresh oranges, the freshly squeezed orange juice was te perfect way to start the day. There is very little better than freshly squeezed orange juice, but particularly if you can see the trees where they were grown from the breakfast table. 
madrona manor, bedroom

A sketch of the bed. Very, very comfortable. The rooms are sans-TV, a big plus for me. And below, a drawing of the main mansion. I’m glad we were lucky enough to stay there.

madrona manor en vert