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The Art of Living

The Art of Living

In 1988 my family and I relocated from Schenectady to Crespières, a small village to the west of Paris, 23 miles from my office on the 25th floor of the Montparnasse Tower, Paris’s first and only skyscraper. We lived in a “Domaine” (development) comprising a few dozen luxury homes across the main road from the old village. Crespières had a bakery, a pharmacy, a restaurant (a crêperie, fittingly given the name of the village) and some shops, but for serious shopping we had to drive south, to a town called Plaisir where there was an Auchan “hypermarché”, or north, through the forest, to a town named Orgeval, where there several big stores.

Orgeval also had a shopping center which wasn’t anchored by a grocery store chain or a hypermarket – rather it featured stores selling antiques, sporting goods, artwork, and other “non-essentials.” It was called “L’Art de Vivre” – the art of living. From the first, this name struck me. In American culture we look at life using various paradigms – life as a struggle, life as a game, life as a right, life as a duty or obligation. Conceptualizing life as an art form seemed at once unusual and at the same time intriguing.

A still life hung in one of the galleries at L’Art de Vivre, depicting a bowl of red tomatoes, a plate of green apples, and a plate of eclairs stacked in rows, each row at right angles to the next. The painting was executed with a palette knife, the paint layered on very thick. The three-dimensional quality of the paint seemed to contribute very much the three-dimensional perception of the objects. The white lace tablecloth under the fruit and eclairs was visible along the bottom of the painting. The lacework was executed in white and but included shades of blue indicating the shadows caused by the rippling tablecloth.

Whenever we shopped at L’Art de Vivre, I spent quality time with that painting. It was expensive; I couldn’t justify it. So I appreciated the painting each time I came, chatting with the owner and as she did her best to overcome the obstacles to my purchasing it.

After years of this, the time came for us to move back to the United States. As the movers packed up our household, I found myself on a shopping trip near L’Art de Vivre and went in to pay “my” painting a visit. I decided that the painting had to go back home with us. I told the owner that the time had finally come for me to purchase the work. She congratulated me, but also told me apologetically that the price had been increased, so the painting would cost even more than what I had thought I couldn’t afford. I worked this through with her, and she eventually saw the logic of selling me the painting at the original price. It never hung in our Crespières house (it went straight into the shipping container) but it now hangs in Chez Nous’ dining room. (Look behind you and to your left as you enter the main dining room.)

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