There are artistic oeuvres around every French corner at this former flower farm.

"Chasing Matisse: A Year in France Living My Dream," by James Morgan. "A lovely memoir, travelogue and art history...Morgan's passion...might even inspire some readers to follow dreams of their own." --Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. More about the book, here.

oeuvre (uh-vruh) noun, feminine
  1. work
  2. task
  3. deed
  4. ("oeuvre" is also a masculine noun and refers to the complete "works" of an artist; "oeuvre," masculine, is also used in construction lingo such as "second oeuvre" (finishings)

        La vie d'un artiste, c'est son oeuvre.
      The life of an artist is his work.
--Jérôme Garcin

How to distill thirty-six hours with an artist into one tidy vignette? The task is daunting and I sit here staring at a blank screen as the artist herself must stare at her canvas.

For starters, I could do as the artist would by tossing out convention. Ouf.* Freedom! Next, I might sketch a few initial impressions...add a bold stroke of color, step back from my easel, and tilt my head. Hmmm. I return to my palette, swirl my paintbrush into a puddle of Prussian blue and, in the meantime, off we jump into this anti-essay via a series of scattered thoughts and impressions.

Seated in a wicker chair, a row of bee-spotted lavender beside me, I peer into Tessa Baker's atelier, past the painted green shutters, over the tomette* tiled floor, and spy the English artist who is singing "Suzanne" by Leonard Cohen:

"...And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers..."

...on the easel, a rectangular canvas receives an inspired the air the smell of turpentine is thick enough to taste.

Here, on an ancient flower farm where chatty chickens ("Queenie" and "Firelighter") are home on the range, a charcoal cat named Cabas* (kah-ba) warms to me via a purr and a proie.* Oh, là là!

A gray-skied dawn filters into a guestroom window curtained by green vines that hold purple flowers. "Morning glory" indeed.

"Is it a "gift?" I ask my hostess, of the field mouse that Cabas the cat has dropped beside my bed. "Oh, dear. It is!" she apologizes.

In the kitchen I steal past the artist, a stiff souris* in my hand, on my way to its swift burial. "Rigor mortis," Tess shudders, before honoring the maman* in me. "Only a mother could do that," she says of such brazen mouse maneuvering. I puff up with pride as Cabas did when she presented her catch.

On the terrace, shaded by an honorable linden tree, I listen to the eclectic island beat of a bamboo chime. The breakfast table is set with pottery, linen, and pearl-handled spoons. "We'll have napkin rings!" the artist says. "What color would you like?"
"And I shall have pink!" the artist decides.
The napkin rings slide on, then off, as we settle in to a petit déjeuner* of farm fresh eggs "à la coque"* and buttery "toast fingers," breakfasting with the abandon of giglets at a tea party.

I ask if I might clean the henhouse so as to learn about coop logistics (and to leave my hostess a pocket of free time in which to paint or putter). I wheel the barrel to the poulailler,* hunch down into the hutch, gather the straw and droppings with a shovel. When the shovel becomes chiante,* I give up and use my hands... Pouah!* I soon learn that poules* leave presents, just as purry cats do, when Queenie struts up and lays the third egg of the day in thanks for her fresh "sheets".

This canvas is running out of room and we've yet to sketch the voiturette,* VaVa,* and the vêtements* aisle at Intermarché where the artist's words "It brings out the gypsy in you!" have me twirling round and round in a supermarket skirt. Catching the enthusiasm, the quiet French woman next to us selects a frilly jupe,* ignores the portable dressing room, and joins us twirlers who've given haute couture a haughty hee-haw!

As an artist leaves her canvas, so shall I leave this composition: abstract and incomplete, for the viewer to interpret as s/he pleases.


*     *     *
Meet Tess and join her for her fun-filled COOKERY COURSES IN PROVENCE. Visit:


.................................French Vocabulary..................................................
References: ouf! = phew!; la tomette (tommette) = type of terracotta tile, usually bright red with a hexagonal shape; le cabas (m) = wicker (or cloth) shopping-bag; la proie (f) = prey; la souris (f) = mouse; la maman (f) = mother; le petit déjeuner (m) = breakfast; (un oeuf) à la coque = soft-boiled egg; le poulailler (m) = henhouse; chiante (chiant) = a damn nuisance; puah! = yuck!; la poule (f) = hen; la voiturette (f) = little car; VaVa = GoGo; le vêtement (m) = article of clothing; la jupe (f) = skirt

     :: Audio Clip ::
Hear French pronunciation: Listen to Jean-Marc recite today's word and quote:
La vie d'un artiste, c'est son oeuvre.
MP3 file: Download oeuvre.mp3
Wave file: Download oeuvre.wav

Terms & Expressions:
  faire oeuvre utile = to do something worthwhile or useful
  mettre quelqu'un à l'oeuvre = to put someone to work
  se mettre à l'oeuvre = to get down to work
  faire de bonnes oeuvres = to do charitable, social, work

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