Tag Archives: French Side

Seeing Myself on the Canvas

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It’s not every day that I get to model for a famous artist. But today was not just another day!

Sir Roland Richardson is called “The Father of Caribbean Impressionism.” He’s one of Saint Martin’s foremost citizens, and has made significant contributions in the art, history, and literary aspects of the island. Internationally, he is best known for his vibrant oil paintings. He and his wife, Laura, run his art gallery out of a historic building in the French capitol, Marigot.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may have read about the day that Roland painted Stacey. Today, it was my day to sit for the master. Last time I visited the gallery, I mentioned that my husband, Ben, is from Africa and I have a few sets of clothing from Tanzania. He asked me to wear one for a painting, so I chose a colorful dress and head scarf that Ben gave me for our first Christmas and a cowrie shell necklace from Ben’s mom. The outfit not only reflects the Johnson family heritage, it also represents the island’s African influences and the narrative of many of Saint Martin’s citizens.

The painting took about four hours. As he worked, Roland told Stacey and I about the island’s history. He knows more about Saint Martin history than almost anyone! If you’re around Marigot, French Saint Martin on a Thursday, stop into his gallery to watch him paint a portrait and ask about the island’s past. Roland is a wealth of fascinating information on the Caribbean.

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Don’t you love how the painting turned out? I can’t wait to see it displayed in the gallery! What a wonderful experience.

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You can see more of Sir Roland Richardson’s work at his website here.

Photo Credits: Stacey Culpepper

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The Perspective of a Painter

If you take a stroll down the Rue de la Republique of Marigot on the island of Saint Martin, you will find a tall, 200-year-old building with red gingerbread doors and shutters. On most days, the doors and windows are flung open to allow passersby to admire vibrant artwork within. This is the art gallery of Sir Roland Richardson.

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It’s a Thursday, the day when the gallery is most interesting. On Thursdays, Roland paints portraits. Today, my friend Stacey is the chosen model, and I have come to watch.

Roland welcomes us inside his gallery and begins to show us around. The first thing that catches our attention is the bright reds and oranges of the flamboyant trees in Roland’s paintings. As he opens the gingerbread shutters, sunlight floods the gallery and illuminates the artwork– a scattering of flowers on this canvas, a still-life print on the shelf, a field of sunflowers on that canvas. Roland tells us that every single painting in his gallery was done from life. “If I’m not looking at it, I don’t paint it,” he says. For Roland, a painting is a historical object. He doesn’t want to invent something that doesn’t exist; he doesn’t want to extrapolate on a photograph. He wants to capture a moment in time.

We can see that he captures moments in the most beautiful way.

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Roland continues to set up shop, and we wander into the garden. The back wall of the garden is perfectly picturesque; it is one of the island’s oldest buildings, a French barracks that housed the army while they built Fort Louis. The garden itself is charming. We admire the voluptuous tropical flowers and chat with some of the other gallery guests.

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It is late in the morning, and the tourists begin to trickle in. Roland welcomes them with his usual zeal and immediately begins to instruct on art and light. He sets a prism on the sidewalk outside and snatches up a blank canvas to capture the rainbow it throws into the room. Light is everything to us, he explains, because it defines everything we can see. Except for the things within our reach, the only reason we can know anything exists is because of light.

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He gestures to the rainbow on his canvas. While our minds think we see seven colors, he says, there are really only three: red, yellow and blue. In religion, there is the Trinity, and in the physical world, there are three dimensions. In the world of light and color, there are the primary colors. Light goes back, it goes forward, and it goes outward in a glow. Three dimensions, and three elements to light.

Roland’s wife, Laura, arrives to manage the gallery, and Roland takes leave of his visitors. Up the stairs we go. On the second floor, There is still more art– mostly portraits. Roland sets up his canvas and tries every combination of shadow in the room to find the perfect light in which to paint Stacey. We open and close all the windows and all the doors until he is satisfied with a soft, sunlit glow from one side of the room. He focuses for a moment on his subject and then on his canvas, tracing invisible shapes on its surface with his hands. “The first gestures to me are the most important, because it is the way the subject wants to appear in the space you have,” he explains. The canvas, he tells us, is a unique space. in order to create art on the canvas, you cannot simply determine what you want to put there. Part of the art of painting is the art of discovery. You must discover how the subject wants to fit within the space of the canvas; you must draw it out of the canvas. “A painting is not a picture of something. A painting is a thing in itself.”

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The first strokes of the master are light, but strong; purposeful, but free. I watch in fascination as the image appears on the canvas. Roland talks as he works, explaining what he does and why. He works on all the pieces of the painting simultaneously so that it can grow naturally. That’s how babies grow, he says– the whole foot doesn’t develop first and then a leg and so on. A painting can’t develop that way, either.

To Roland, painting is not just an art. It is not simply a form of self-expression. “Self expression is not art,” he states. No, art is something more than that. Art is something spiritual. “I believe that paintings are an essential aspect of humankind that is really unique and that an awareness of the importance of art…is intended to nourish our beings. Our spirits.”

My mind ruminates on this thought as Roland continues his work. Art really does nourish our spirits. Supposing that the universe is random and has no meaning, then what is the purpose of beauty, and why are we drawn to beautiful things? We inherently love sunsets and recoil from spiders. God placed something within our souls that craves beauty. And He created beauty all around us. Beauty in our lives is the thumbprint of God on the world; it is His signature. Every flitting butterfly and every turquoise hummingbird whispers to us that God loves us and that there is a meaning to life.

My thoughts are interrupted as a group of students from nearby school enter the studio. They are part of an art class, and they are here to interview Roland for a school project.

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“Why did you decide to become an artist?” asks one student. Roland turns from his work, fistful of brushes in hand. “You don’t decide to become an artist,” he says. It is not a decision. It is a calling. Being an artist is more than simply a job, he says. It is the purpose that the Creator made him for. He tells the story of how he became the first St. Martin-born professional painter, from the seventeen-year-old painting his very first piece to the successful artist he is today.

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The students finish their questions, say goodbye, and file down the stairs. The painting is becoming more and more lifelike. With every stroke, it becomes more Stacey. As he paints, Roland tells us the difference between painting a person and painting anything else. With an object, you can decide what you are looking at. With a person, you must discover what you are looking at. Painting through discovery brings respect to the human subject, he admonishes. This strikes me as profound, and I wonder if biographers and photographers also think this way. Perhaps if we all approached one another in this way– not just in painting, but in everyday life– we would have more grace and respect for one another.

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It is now mid-afternoon, and the shafts of light angle differently through the windows than they did when the canvas was still white. The room is airy, and I can smell the sweet fragrance of the garden flowers. Outside, the bells break through the sound of downtown traffic to chime three o’clock. Roland puts the finishing touches on Stacey’s blue eyes. He invites her to come see. A smile lights up her face as she sees herself in fine art on the canvas. It really is beautiful.

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We take in a few more quick lessons on art and color from the artist, bid him goodbye, and emerge from the cool of the studio to the warm sunlight of the West Indies. Time ticks on, the bustle of town swallows up the moments. The ferry pulls out of port, someone is born, and someone dies. But upstairs in the studio, a moment of time is forever captured and will never be forgotten.

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One Hour in France

One week after the attacks on Paris, the French flags in Marigot, French St. Martin fly at half-mast. Although the crowds of tourists seem to obliviously enjoy the sun, sand, and sea, the denizens of Saint Martin–on both sides of the island– feel a change in the atmosphere.

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Fort Louis in Marigot, French St. Martin flies the French flag at half-mast

 

Although French St. Martin’s port flies only France’s flag at half-mast, the Dutch side of the island is hoisting all flags at half-mast, a gesture of support and compassion for its French counterpart. “Je Suis France,” cries a sign in Simpson Bay. It is times like these that the unity of the nationally-divided island is most evident.

The significance of the bombing hits close to home for many– for us, exactly .70 miles from home. I’m sure you can image the underlying fear that many people on our island feel. Besides sharing our land with the French, many of us, Ben and I included, have loved ones who live in Paris.

Security on the island is tightening as events continue to unfold. On Monday, the Dutch-side newspaper announced the arrival of a small group of Arab men with false Greek passports. The men were detained as suspected potential terrorists. I’m pretty sure they’re not– real terrorists would certainly have more realistic passports and would know better than to use Greece as their cover country.

Tuesday, the police created a road block and checked every single car on the route to the capitol. I’m not sure why, but it certainly slowed down traffic and I was glad to be coming back rather than heading toward Philipsburg.

The attack in Paris not only brought our attention and compassion to Parisians, it also (finally) opened many Western eyes to similar tragedies around the world: West Bank, Somalia, Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Chad, and Cameroon all experienced acts of terrorism in the month of November, 2015 before Paris was bombed. We did not hear about those on the news because terrorism in Africa and the Middle East no longer shocks us.

Perhaps our horror at the attack on Paris will give us renewed perspective on terrorism in any country.

Maybe it will get our attention so that we will stop re-posting and start doing something about it.

Dutch Sint Maarten is not the only place Syrian refugees showed up with false papers. I heard of incidents in both Honduras and Texas in the last 24 hours. Of all the people currently affected by terrorism, certainly Syrians are at the top of the list. It seems they have nowhere to go, so they are going wherever they can. Wouldn’t you?

Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do for the suffering of Paris except put up a French flag on my Facebook account and bear with the haters and the cries of “white supremacy.” It’s not much, but it’s a way to join with St. Maarten in supporting St. Martin and France.

Fortunately, there are tangible ways that you and I can help the people escaping violence in Syria!

I found this article from a UK-based news source that gives practical ways that “regular people” can be a part of the solution.

One of my friends offered this updated Amazon link. You can spend that unused Amazon gift card and send needed items to be distributed to refugees.

Friends, the world can be a terrible place. The acts of wickedness shock us, petrify us, make us weep. But we don’t have to live in fear, without hope. We can be the hope. We can be part of the solution. We can pray for God to bring comfort, peace, and justice. Then we can stand up and be the answers to our own prayers. We can bring light into this dark world. We can extend the hand of compassion to those who are hurting. This is what God has called us to do, and we can all do it, wherever we are.

 

 

 

Caribbean Cooking: French Onion Soup (On a Budget)

I love St. Maarten for many reasons– one of them is that “France” is right next door! We get the language, the culture, and the food– oh, and is the food delicious! Of course, you can’t have French food without French onion soup, so I decided to make some at home. This is my budget version of French onion soup.

Step One: Gather ingredients.

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-Two medium onions

-1/4 cup margarine or butter

-Salt, pepper, and parsley (Thyme would be better, though)

-1 1/2 cups of water

-Chicken or beef bouillon to make 4 cups broth

– 3/4 cup white wine

-2 teaspoons of flour

-Cheese

-Bread Bowls

Step one: Slice onions thinly, top to bottom. If you need to have a good cry, this is a great time to do it. You’ll be weeping buckets by the end of this step anyway.

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Step 2: Melt butter in a pan, add herbs, and stir in onions.

Step 3: Stir onions frequently until they are a deep golden brown.

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Optional Step: Become distracted and forget to stir the onions. Burn the bottom layer, scoop the rest into a new pan, and do your best to remove the smell of burned onions from your home.

Step 4: Add flour and stir.

Step 5: Add wine and stir.

I have no idea what kind of wine is best for this, but I chose Lazo Chardonnay because it was cheap and I liked the shape of the bottle.

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Step 6: Add 4 cups of broth, the water, and half a teaspoon of pepper. Turn down to simmer for half an hour and stir occasionally.

Preheat the oven to about 100* C. All you need the oven to do is melt the cheese on top of the soup.

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Step seven: Pour soup into bread bowls.

I baked my own bread bowls from scratch. Because I have that kind of time in my life right now. If you have kids, a regular job, school, whatever, by all means save yourself some sanity and buy them from the store.

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Step 8: Generously sprinkle cheese on the soup. I bought a mozzarella and provolone mix, but to be authentic and fancy, you should use Gruyere and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Step 9: Put the soup in the oven until the cheese melts. Or don’t.

I put the soup and bowls in the oven to get that melty-cheese deliciousness, but it might be better to do this when the soup is served in actual bowls. Leaving the soup in the bread bowls so long before serving made them a little soggy. But if you like that, go for it!

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Step 10: Serve and enjoy. Yum!

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Adapted from an Epicurious recipe

Welcome to American University of the Caribbean!

Today is the day! We’ve been dreaming of this day, planning for it, and praying for it for many months. No, it’s not our wedding. We already did that. Today is Ben’s first day of medical school!

Like the dorky picture-snapping wife I am, I took a “first day of school” photo and posted it on Facebook.

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This is technically the first day of classes, but Ben has actually been on campus all week. We first stepped onto campus for our campus tour last weekend. Our first impression of the school was that it is spacious, clean, secure, tastefully decorated, and has a great view. We also thought that the campus is pretty big, but anything looks big compared to our undergrad university. Our campus tour showed us the “welcome center,” or guard shack, as it is commonly known, where security checks in and out every single person who enters campus. The next stop was the rotunda, a large, circular room in the center of the main building. Here, there are stairs that go to a second floor, which contains a few lecture halls, the library, and other rooms. On the same level as the rotunda is a nice recreational building with a ping-pong room, a room with couches for chilling and studying, a yoga room, and the gym. I was most excited about the gym. I’ll be spending a lot of time there. It has several treadmills and ellipticals in addition to other workout machines that looked like they are in great condition.

Pumpin' iron
Pumpin’ iron

There is also a cafeteria near this area, and the prices aren’t bad. Ben got a chicken wrap, an apple, and a bag of chips yesterday as a free new student gift, and he liked it. I think it would usually cost $5, which isn’t bad at all, considering the price of food on this island.

If you walk straight from the front door into the rotunda and then out the back door, you will arrive at note services, more lecture halls, and study rooms for rent. There is also a basketball court and the smoking area. I have no idea why anyone would be going into medicine and also be a smoker, but to each his own.

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Basketball Court. Too bad I took this at night– the lagoon is in the background.

Through a patio garden area, down the steps, and across the street is The New Building and the dormitories. The New Building has many lecture rooms, offices, a smaller cafeteria area, a study zone, anatomy lab, the auditorium, etc. Ben will be spending most of his time here. His class is the biggest at the school so far (about 280, I think), so they will be living in the auditorium for most of their classes. During anatomy lab, they will be upstairs working in small groups. Thankfully, each person gets their own anatomy lab locker, so nothing that smells like cadavers and formaldehyde will come into our apartment!

The auditorium
The auditorium

Behind The New Building is a stunning view of Simpson Bay and the mountains that make up this island. Beautiful.

Mural outside Ben's classroom. It represents giving a bright future to the island's children.
Mural outside Ben’s classroom. It represents giving a bright future to the island’s children.

Besides a tour, the school has hosted many other fun and/or required pre-class events. There were several shuttle runs to the grocery store over the weekend. Saturday was a beach volleyball game and Ben got his ID badge that same morning. Sunday was registration in the morning and a welcome meeting in the evening. Happily for us, the evening event was catered with a delicious meal! Nothing says “happy students” like free food. After the welcome meeting, everyone was invited to compete in a scavenger hunt (this provided the lovely photos for this post) and an ice cream mixer.

Boats in Simpson Bay Lagoon
Boats in Simpson Bay Lagoon

Monday included seminars on wellness and professionalism. If I had named them, I would have called the sessions How Not to Die and How Not to Lose Your License. Most of it seemed like common sense to me as I flipped through the booklet, but it’s always good to hear good advice, especially during times of transition and stress. Besides, there are a lot of ways to be stupid and get in trouble on this island. Hopefully people will take the warnings seriously, because coming to class with a massive hangover is not a good way to pass one’s Step Ones.  There was also an assessment and a reading quiz on Monday over the book Short White Coat. 

Island Bus Tour
Island Bus Tour

Yesterday (Tuesday) contained more and longer workshops, as well as an island tour. We stopped in Marigot and visited a French Patisserie. It was actually a pretty good price– four delicious pastries for about six bucks. We also stopped in Orient Bay to see Saint-Martin’s best beach. I have to say that I like Mullet Bay much better. Orient is pretty seaweedy this year, and the beach was pretty busy. It does have a good view of Anguilla and some small islands, though. We didn’t stop anywhere else, but it was nice to drive the perimeter of the island and see the less touristy areas where local people live. I was delighted to finally see some fresh fruit stands! After the island tour, the students went back to school for complementary subs and a meeting with their orientation advisers.

French Pastries
French Pastries

The week is not over yet! After today’s classes, there is a student mixer. Tomorrow is the Spouse Organization’s first get-together. Friday is the white coat ceremony. And from there, it’s all about studying, studying, studying.

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What to Do for a Week in Sint Maarten

We have now been living in Sint Maarten for a week! We have a week yet to explore and enjoy before classes begin for Ben at American University of the Caribbean. We’re going on as many adventures as we can on our beautiful island home. Here are some of the fun things we have done. If you ever come to Sint Maarten, take some time to try a few of these!

1. Mullet Bay Beach

We love Mullet Bay Beach! I can’t believe we live just a short walk away. Mullet Bay has gorgeous fine white sand, warm clear water, and best of all, not too many people. There is even a little beach snack shack with umbrellas and chairs for rent.

Mullet bay Beach
Mullet bay Beach

2. Fort Louis

We took an excursion to the French side of the island last week. On the north side of the town of Marigot, there is a short hike to the ruins of an old French fort. I’m not sure if the best part is the view or the awesome vintage cannons.

Ft. St. Louis
Ft. Louis

3. Fishing

I’m not sure about the French side of the island, but on the Dutch side, one does not need a license to fish. And the fishing is good! We’ve done just about every type of fishing you can imagine. It’s fun, but the downside is that most fish aren’t edible. The majority potentially carry Ciguatera, an incredibly toxic virus that affects people quite badly. Fortunately, the little ones and the herbivores are generally clean. We made fish tacos last night. They were delicious.

Ben catches a barracuda. Can’t eat these, unfortunately.

4. Shopping

Both the French side and the Dutch side have great shopping. Most of it is pretty expensive, but what do you expect on an island? Our shopping has been limited to fishing equipment and groceries for the most part.

I'm not sure what exactly this is useful for, but I've always wanted to be a mermaid!
I’m not sure what exactly this is useful for, but I’ve always wanted to be a mermaid!

5. Snorkeling

The fish here are beautiful. There are few things more fascinating than watching tropical fish go about their little fish lives. The variety and color is amazing! So far, the coral we’ve seen is a bit drab, but the fish make up for it. The other day, I saw a scary huge barracuda and the biggest granddaddy spinefish I’ve ever seen!

One of three good watersports stores we discovered in Marigot
One of three good watersports stores we discovered in Marigot

6. Casinos

I wouldn’t recommend the gambling, and a definitely wouldn’t recommend the bars. I’ve heard of the sketchy and dangerous things that happen in some of these bars. However, the casinos sometimes have pretty great food for a reasonable price at their restaurants! We ate at Thai Savanh’ in Stars Casino for Ben’s birthday. They have a nice patio for dining away from the smoke of the casino.

Thai Savanh'
Thai Savanh’

7. Hiking and Running

We went on Guana Bay hike with friends yesterday. We loved the views! There are so many little islands that you can see from this trail. This is just one of many hikes on the island. There are good opportunities for running, too, whether on the beach or the golf course.

Guana Bay hike
Guana Bay hike

8. Surfing

Surfing in the storm
Surfing in the storm

Ben and his friend Matt bought a couple of surf boards today and took advantage of tropical storm Erika’s big waves. There aren’t too many days with good surfing, so today was lucky. Unfortunately, Ben ended up getting thrown onto a sea urchin, so right now he’s experiencing the bad side of the:

9. Wildlife

The flora and fauna here is awesome! Ben climbs coconut palms so we can have fresh coconut milk. There are a few fruit trees here, too. I’ve already mentioned the fish, and in addition to sea creatures, there are interesting land creatures, too, like the giant iguanas that sun themselves on the golf course.

Caribbean iguana
Caribbean iguana

Until next time!