Commentary: Independent Progressive: Community Center Class Leads to France

A few years ago Fran, my bride of 52 years, signed up to take her first painting class at the Reston Community Center-Lake Anne branch. She found the class interesting and challenging. She kept taking classes in part because of Christine Lashley, a talented teacher who encouraged her work in water colors.

Last year Ms. Lashley announced plans for a painting class excursion to France. Fran was quite interested and when she told me about it, I was, too! I had only two questions — could a non-painter husband come along and how much would it cost? Fran dealt with the latter, arranging reasonable air travel and getting me included at a discount since I would not be a student. It turned out spouses were allowed — if we agreed to carry easels, and other supplies for the artists.

We flew to Paris, then to Nice where we overnighted in a tiny old hotel, walked down the beach and had our first French cuisine — scrumptious seafood. The next morning at the train station we encountered several of Fran’s painter classmates, a marvelous, eclectic group: 14 painters with skill levels varying from very accomplished who sell their work, to up-and-comers, and newbies. With them were three other spouses! We spouses would be called the Sherpas.

French trains are terrific, modern and well managed. Once we figured out the station and platforms, we were off up the Cote d’Azur past Cannes to our destination, Mandalieu, and the Chateau La Napoule. This castle became home for seven gorgeous, sunny days. After breakfast each morning on the castle’s elegant rampart, Ms. Lashley led her charges some days to various places in or around the castle for morning and afternoon painting, and other days to the marina, the local farmers market, the beach, the village of Mandalieu and medieval towns nearby.

John, meanwhile, walked the beach and every lane of the village, stopping at the green grocer’s for fresh fruits from nearby North Africa and southern EU, and a wine shop to pick up the evening’s wine from a variety of French wines, starting at three Euros (about $3.15). Reading in the park, or napping if that mood struck me. After dinner, the painters gathered to self-critique their day’s work. Fran really enjoyed the plein air painting and the interchange with the other artists.

Space here cannot do justice to Mandalieu. Maybe a couple of pictures will help. One is the Chateau, the other is a two-picture sequence taken out our bedroom window — the first of an African bride arriving to be wed on the grounds, the second is a drone taking pictures of us from outside the window to share with Ivory Coast Presidential security nearby! The President was a wedding guest.

Next, we were off to Paris via Marseille on a bullet train at 295 kilometers (+/- 165 miles) per hour through the French countryside. It only seemed that fast in the brief instant when another train passed going the other way! After a smooth, comfortable ride, we were in a taxi headed to another quaint, old hotel, this time in the Latin Quarter within a short walk to the River Seine, the Musee d’Orsay, the Louvre, and the Tuileries Gardens.

The artists were in heaven painting the Tuileries, the Seine and all the little cafes in between! Then came the piece d’ resistance — a day trip to Giverny, home of Claude Monet and the impressionist’s grand gardens. Ms. Lashley had arranged for the class not only to be permitted to set up their easels and paint where they wished in his gardens, but after the Gardens were closed to tourists her class was allowed two additional hours before dusk all by themselves in this very special place.

Then, it was off across the pond and back home, after about the coolest experience an up-and-coming water colorist could imagine. And, to tell the truth, the sherpa had one of the great experiences of his life just carrying easels and such.

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