CAMAC!!! (Part I)

Trying to condense my amazing two months at the CAMAC Centre d’Art in Marnay-sur-Seine is really very difficult. It seems that so many important things happened there, in the studio and beyond. I formed many wonderful new friendships, embarked on a significant creative endeavor, and learned to enjoy the slow pace of this small riverside village. It was my first live-in artist residency experience, and a highly formative one, at that. I know I will always cherish the precious time I spent there, and will look back on it with much love. In fact, I think I’ll do some reminiscing now. Shall we?

After my week touring Paris, I hauled my many bags to the Gare de l’Est station, and bought a ticket to one of Marnay-sur-Seine’s neighboring towns, Nogent-sur-Seine. (Marnay is too small to have its own train station. In fact, there aren’t even stores in Marnay-sur-Seine. That’s right, nothing. Not even a boulangerie (bakery)… in France! You know you’re talking about a SMALL village in France if there isn’t even a place to buy fresh bread!)

The stations and trains are clean, efficient, and easy to navigate (something I gained much experience with – and loved – while traveling around France after my residency. But more on that in posts to come…)

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I was picked up at the station by a member of the CAMAC staff, and we drove the 15 minutes or so to Marnay. The village (population 250) is composed of several residential homes, a few vacant commercial spaces, the town hall, a church, a botanical garden (oddly enough), and of course, the CAMAC Centre d’Art. It is quiet and quaint, flowers are growing everywhere, and ivy covers the walls of stone buildings with adorable shuttered windows.  It’s an absolutely lovely place to stroll around, and I often did during my two months there. You won’t run into many people, but when you do, you’ll always be greeted with a friendly “Bonjour!” or “Bonsoir!”

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La Mairie (the town hall)…

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La petite église (the little church) is not completely abandoned, although they don’t hold weekly services anymore.  A few of us happened to be walking by when some people were there, and they let us take a look around inside…

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Marnay is situated between the Seine river to the north and the canal to the south.  I spent a lot of time walking along them both…

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The canal…

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The path that follows the canal to Nogent-sur-Seine in one direction and to Pont-sur-Seine in the other…  More on those towns in a future post!

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On the outskirts of Marnay, you’ll find rows and rows of neatly planted trees, dirt roads, farmland, and lots of GREEN…

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Balls of mistletoe dot the landscape just about everywhere.  I know it’s not good for the trees, but I have to admit that I love it… at least, aesthetically.  One of my fellow residents used mistletoe leaves for some work she made while at CAMAC, but more on that later…

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There’s a lot of tree-farming and logging happening on the outskirts of town as well…

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I love the ‘unintentional drawings’ I found in these piles of logs…

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The one teensy thing that spoils the idyllic-French-village vibe that Marnay’s got going is the… ummm… NUCLEAR POWER PLANT that’s located just down the road in Nogent-sur-Seine.  It was a little foreboding at times, “living in the shadow of The Nuke,” as we often jokingly remarked, but it was also oddly mesmerizing.  One of my fellow residents actually made art using sound recordings of the power plant (more on that in a future post), and I learned that nuclear is France’s primary source of electricity.  I also learned that France is second behind the U.S. for most power plants in the world – a pretty mind-blowing fact when you think about how much smaller France is compared to the States…

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The CAMAC ‘compound,’ as I came to call it, is located just before the bridge that crosses over the Seine river (and marks the northern boundary of the village). The Centre is housed in an old priory building, which became the home of Daniel Fillipacchi in the 1960’s. Daniel was a friend and collaborator of Frank Ténot, a prominent figure in the French publishing and jazz music worlds as well as the Mayor of Marnay-sur-Seine in the late 1990’s. The famous French radio show “Hi Folks” was recorded by them in the building during the 1960’s (in the room that currently serves as the computer lab), and the property was host to many famous musicians like Duke Ellington in those days. (The unofficial story is that it was a bit of a party house for these artists and their associates, complete with late-night drunken swimming in the Seine and the like – of course, I have no proof of this!)

The property sits on the banks of the Seine, and is absolutely gorgeous with its rustic, European charm and its oh-so-French feel…

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The little apple orchard where we hung our clothes out to dry…

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And the back patio – one of my favorite spots, and a great place to eat meals and relax in those last days of summer.  Every morning as I walked to the kitchen, I greeted the weeping willows (“les saules pleureurs”) and the river.  Over the months, I observed the rhythm of the Seine’s tides, its rise after rainstorms, the tiny whirlpools that constantly spiraled upon its surface, and the family of white swans that so often visited the little stretch of water behind our building…

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A picture of CAMAC from the bridge that crosses over the river…

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An interesting side note about the bridge: it’s relatively new because the original bridge was bombed during World War II. I noted this sort of thing many times while I was in France – a physical and immediate connection to the War that we just don’t have in the States, apart from Pearl Harbor. It may sound silly, but for me, it makes the memory of the War so much more real when I can actually LOOK at a bridge that was bombed and rebuilt rather than merely reading about it in a book. I wonder if citizens from ALL the world’s countries lived with such tangible and immediate reminders of war, would it be as prevalent as it is today?

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And another little side note about the bridge: On the last really warm day of September, we saw young teenagers jumping off the top of the bridge’s arcs into the river.  Apparently they do this all summer long, but only in one very particular spot where the water is deep enough.  Yikes!

But I digress – back to the residency! I was assigned the bedroom called “Anne” in a small building that houses only two artists and their studio spaces. I adored my cozy, ivy-covered ‘bungalow’ bedroom, with my studio space located just on the floor above…

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In adjacent buildings, there were other artist bedrooms/studios, the administrative office, the computer lab, the library, the laundry room, the kitchen, and common living / dining spaces…

 

The beautiful spiral staircase in la tour (the tower) that leads up to the library, bedrooms, and studios…

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The library…

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I spent many hours writing blog posts about Nepal at this little desk with its gorgeous view of the river…

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The computer lab / old recording studio of Daniel Fillipacchi and Frank Ténot…

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Many of their old records are still there (and you can see a picture of them posted on the door to the left)…

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The strange and wonderful basement laundry room…

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The common living and dining spaces upstairs…

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This great couch was so well-loved, it eventually… sort of…. “exploded” after about a month.  That’s when we redubbed it “The Slouch.”  BEFORE:

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… and AFTER:

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Our very big dining table where we ate dinners on weeknights (and most weekends) at 7pm sharp!

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 The kitchen, with its sunny breakfast nook – another one of my favorite spots…

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The kitchen is fully stocked for residents to make their own breakfast and lunch, and dinner is fully prepared five nights a week by a professional chef, our slightly-cranky-but-mostly-wonderful Phillipe…

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Photo by Raquel Esquives

This being France, it is needless to say that the food was rich and filled with LOTS of butter and grease (and yes, of course, a ton of pork). There were at least two (if not three) desserts every single night, and well… the scale is just not your friend in a place like CAMAC. I’d never thought I’d say it, but eating there for two months actually made me tire of chocolate mousse! CHOCOLATE MOUSSE, can you believe it?!

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Photo by Jón Özur Snorrason

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Photo by Jón Özur Snorrason

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There was always lots and lots of delicious quiche…

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Et bien sûr, le fromage et le vin! (And of course, the cheese and wine!)

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And the desserts… oh, the desserts…

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Îles flottantes or Oeufs à la neige (“Floating Islands” or “Eggs in the Snow”), one of my MOST favorite desserts that I fortunately never tired of… YUM!

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As mentioned, I wasn’t so lucky with the delicious chocolate mousse, though.  Apparently there is a limit, and I found it…

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CONTINUE THIS POST IN CAMAC!!! (PART II) (Yes, I have the worst blogging platform ever)…

 

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