Reflecting with Monet

 

Monet's House

Monet’s House

One of the biggest impediments to my photography practice has always been my emotions. I’m not talking about the self doubt – though that has stopped many a creative process throughout my life. I often find myself taken by intense emotions when witnessing the beauty, majesty, and soul of a place. And then when I snap that picture, the images seem to fall short of what I experience in that moment. Often I don’t see it until I get home and download the images. Wait, what? No, that does not do that moment justice! And then there are the times that I (being a chronic overshooter) am so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of images I took that I just can’t choose which images best match the experiences I want to share or the emotions that those experiences engender! The process is exhausting and I find it may take me days, weeks, months, and even years before I’m ready to finally wade through the folders and to share the beauty of what I have encountered.

Japanese Bridge

My family trip through Normandy (with a sidestep into Brittany) in May of 2016 was one such emotional ride for me. Finally getting to share that part of the world with my husband and my girls, while also discovering new gems I never dreamed would tickle my fancy was just magical. The sheer amount of photos and the attached emotional responses were overwhelming and while life was taking it’s customary chaotic turns for this gypsy Foreign Service Family, I never got the chance to just sit, edit, process the emotions, and share what it was about those places that touched my soul.

So here I am – 3 years later – finally ready to devote the time and confront the emotions that come with remembering, editing and sharing. My girls are now grown and that brings up new emotions while I edit, knowing that those times of us all together are going to be fewer going forward, making the process all that much more bittersweet.

HerrensatGiverny

My kids are used to me dragging them to places they are underwhelmed by – shopping malls, ancient gothic churches, caves, museums, national parks –  you know, pretty much anything when it comes to teenagers traveling with their parents. So I planned our trip to northern France knowing that I would probably be more excited about it than they would be.

When my oldest daughter arrived home from college I told her about the trip and asked if there was anything in Normandy besides Omaha Beach that she wanted to see. I was shocked when she came back to me and said, “Monet’s gardens look cool. Let’s go there.” Giverny is technically in Normandy. It’s just way south of the route we were planning to take from Brussels on the edge of the province! But given that this was a one of those few times she actually showed any interest in something even remotely related to French artists, I jumped at the opportunity and rearranged our itinerary.

Now, even I was not on the bandwagon for this particular destination before this. I mean, how many times have you visited the home of some historical figure and been completely underwhelmed? And while I love Monet’s paintings, I just couldn’t see how visiting his home was going to add any more to that appreciation, especially given the crowds, the weather, the possibility that we missed peak blooming season, etc. I could not have been more wrong!

Since I tucked this stop into our first day of travel, we arrived at a less than ideal time – well past opening. It had been raining on and off all day. We did find the group entrance ( I read on Trip Advisor that they would supposedly honor pre-purchased tickets and help you skip the line at the main gate) and were let in without a fuss – right in front of a huge school age group. Oh boy. This could get unruly…

But coming into this part of the garden first, going to the right and experiencing the water lily pond was just what was needed to start this little adventure off on the right foot. The gardens were gorgeous even though we were a little past peak bloom for many of the spring flowers. The paths are set up so that even with lots of people, you still get a good feel for the beauty of the pond, and can see for yourself the inspiration that Monet must have experienced himself. Sure there are some people in my shots; but I found that they often added a certain “je ne sais quoi.” And everyone was so well behaved. No pushing. No lingering too terribly long at each vantage point (I may have been the offender here). And I never felt too hurried, even by my own family!

The thing about the gardens is what do you focus on? The overall picture? The particular design of each garden? Individual flowers? The reflections in the lily pond? Oh I could spend hours playing with light, textures, and points of view! I get especially lost in the reflections and capturing that classic Monet feel.

Mindful that my daughters’ attention spans could only endure so much of my photographic fervor, I limited myself and we moved on to the house and gardens. They also did not disappoint! So many flowers! So many opportunities for the romantically nostalgic to get lost in dreams!

The house, however charming, is, well, a house. You’ve seen many a house preserved as it was (or might have been) from the historical time period it came from. But there are aspects about it that do have you imaging Monet and his family living there. For me those moments came when looking out of windows and doors into the gardens. And then there was his collection of Japanese engravings. It’s always interesting to see what another artist collects in terms of art and those items they choose to put on their walls that they did not create.

At the end of the visit, we all agreed that the experience was well worth the stop. Even my youngest, an artist herself with little interest in French impressionists (imagine my horror when she admitted that to me!), came away from the experience with more appreciation for Monet’s work. And so, a little bit soggy, we all happily piled into the car and headed to our next destination on my (almost) ultimate French road trip.

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Backroad Waterfall

My husband found this gem on Greenwood Hollow Road (or County Road 301?) by accident the other day while exploring Eureka Springs. He said it was a quaint trickle at the time, but after the heavy rains last week it is now gushing quite nicely. I’m glad I caught it just as the trees were beginning to get dressed for warmer weather, as I’m sure the leaves will obscure much of the view of the waterfall later this summer.

Greenwood Hollow Waterfall

A satellite map view shows a small lake (spring fed?) just above it. There are no signs, no names I can find. So maybe when I live here longer I can dig into the locals’ store of knowledge and find out if this lake and it’s waterfall has a name. If you are from Eureka Springs, reading this blog post, and you know this place, feel free to chime in with any information you might have!

My Last Sale at Embassy Brussels

 

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Where it all began – a very timid booth at the Information Fair!

 

It was a very sad week for me! I had my last showing at the Tri-Mission Association shop at Embassy Brussels. I cannot express how thankful I am to the Embassy community for supporting my work and encouraging me to push beyond my comfort zones in pursuit of more and more opportunities. This venture has been more successful than I ever would have imagined possible and I have learned so much along the way. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your purchases, for your compliments and for your friendship!

Though I know I won’t have quite the same, sweet, set up I do here at Embassy Brussels at my next location, I now have a basis on which to build and learn, and I hope to get my online presence up and running as successfully as my in person sales. To that end, I will be slowly transitioning my photos onto my sale page at www.brandy-herren.pixels.com. Here you will be able to continue purchasing my prints – framed, canvas, etc – as well as fun photo products for home, office, and personal use!

As a thank you, I would like to offer a 10% discount on my image markup on the sale site to my US Foreign Service community members. Contact me and let me know your name and your affiliation with the US Foreign Service and I will send you a discount code to use on your Arklahoma Muse purchase through the website.

Thank you and Happy Clicking!

Fun with Castles

Did you know there are more castles (sometimes referred to as chateaus) per square mile in Belgium than in any other place in the world? For anyone who has ventured even a little out into the Belgian countryside, this is no surprise!

Castle Gravensteen

Castle Gravensteen

Some castles are now museums and public domains. Others have been converted into event venues and are only open to the general public during certain times of year. And some are still privately owned and inhabited, and may or may not offer tours.

Chateau de la Hulpe

95. Chateau de la Hulpe

Some castles have been rebuilt and recreated, such as Castle Gravensteen in Ghent, or Beersel Castle just off of the ring road around Brussels. Some have fallen into ruin, never to regain their former glory and a lucky few have found saviors working (and providing funding) to revive them.

 

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79. Beersel Castle

And then there are those that have been maintained and cared for over a multitude of generations, decades and in some cases, centuries. No matter your preference, there is most likely a castle or château that catches your fancy and stirs your imagination.

57. Bouillon Castle

57. Bouillon Castle

Last year I was fortunate enough to visit quite a few around Belgium. I have merely scratched the surface in this area, but a very lovely surface it was!

In the fall, just before a majority of tourist destinations in Belgium go to sleep for the winter, I jumped at the chance to tour the Chateau d’Attre, located in the quaint little village I have driven through numerous times on my way to the commissary.

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109. Chateau D’Attre

Castle Attre was built in 1752 on the foundation of a previous castle from the 15th century and is still privately owned and lived in. The castle and its grounds are only open to the public on Sundays from April to September, but they are willing to work with groups to provide tours on other days of the week when asked.

Private Altar

Private Altar

While the house and its interior is lovely and full of great details and curiosities, I fell in love with the grounds! My friend Sarah and I braved the drizzle to explore a bit and man are we so glad we did. She’s super patient with me as I spend lots of time photographing the fall foliage and on one such stop I happened to look behind us and noticed a cave opening. We looked at each other, asked “Do we dare?” and took off into the unknown (having seen a spot of light in the distance first!).

The Entrance

The Entrance

 

We emerged at the base of an amazing ruin! Having read absolutely nothing about the castle or the grounds, we weren’t sure what we had stumbled onto, but we knew it was cool. We spent the next hour (the rain had stopped – seriously people you gotta learn to soldier on. The rain is rarely constant here) climbing around this odd old building and having the time of our lives.

It turns out that the ruins were not ruins at all, but a feature that was built to look like old castle ruins in the 1800’s for the castles residents and their visitors. But, wait – that’s still pretty freaking old! Whatever its origins, it was still pretty cool and a setting for all kinds of fun and make-believe.

Next time on Arklahoma Muse I will take you to Gaasbeek Castle, located just off the ring road and close the Neuhaus Chocolate Factory!

 

 

 

 

Hidden History

My friend Elizabeth buys the coolest books. And she likes to explore. This combination is very awesome for me.

Her latest find is “Secret Brussels.” So one day in October she invited me on a walk from our neighborhood to some hidden gems in the Sonian Forest and the commune of Auderghem.

The first part of the trek took us through the grounds of the Red Cloister, a place I know well and have been to many times. I have yet to really get great shots of this place. But my husband enjoys going there, so I will have more chances to succeed in the future.

We made our way from the Red Cloister, under the 411 highway towards our first “secret” destination –  the Chateau/Prison de Trois Fontaines – or rather what is left of the estate. Today, only the lodge remains beyond the old gate (and modern fence). The more intrepid might have hopped the fence to check it out more closely, but I wasn’t feeling so brave that day! In its day the Chateau also served as a prison for those caught poaching in the forest or stealing firewood.

Our next destination was the far newer Chateau of Solitude. This chateau was built for the Princess Marie Ludmille Rose de Croy after becoming widowed, and was a place in the Sonian Forest near Auderghem that she could retreat to deal with her grief and commune with nature. Now it is home to an organization for sports.

A quick walk through the neighborhood, then ducking back under the 411 up the Chausee de Wavre brought more gems. A particularly interesting house we happened upon was the home of Belgian impressionist painter Auguste Oleffe. A dentist has set up shop in the house these days – the only indication that it was home to a painter a plaque upon the wall.

Further up the road, we mounted steps in search of two little streets that the book claimed to be picturesque. In earlier times the area was a rural village identified by the unflattering name of Loozenberg which translates to “Hill Lice.” Understandably the residents changed the village’s name to Bergoje – which basically refers to “houses on a hill.” The book’s author was correct and the streets (or at least the Rue de la Pente) did not disappoint. They are little more than alleyways, lined by old walls and quaint houses – some old, some newer.

On our way back towards home, we chose to continue our journey on the back roads. It’s amazing how much you can feel like you are miles from everything just a few streets in from the main thoroughfares here. We passed yet another chateau-turned-club before finding ourselves at the official entrance to the Val Duchess. I haven’t figured this place out yet, but you can see some amazing houses and buildings from the Boulevard de Souverain and I have been dying to get inside this fenced property and explore. That still hasn’t happened. Instead we continued on until we found a street that we were relatively sure took us in the direction of Elizabeth’s house. The road was a narrow alley (but car sized this time) and at the end I realized where we were and just how close to home we were.

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The fact that the forest is just resplendent this autumn only added to a most enjoyable walk and treasure hunt.

La Brocante – En Couleur et B&W

Black and White or Color – Which is your favorite?

African Adventures – Photos from Zambia, South Africa and Namibia

Muli Bwanji?!

I have finally uploaded all the cards I have on hand from our lives in Zambia and New Zealand. My initial pass through the Zambian files have yielded quite a few gems and I took the time today to post some of them on my new page – African Adventures – Zambia, South Africa and Namibia. There are many more to come! Also, be on the lookout for the New Zealand page, coming soon. Please clicks through the photos and don’t hesitate to send me feedback and let me know what you think!

Zikomo! (Thank you in Nyanja)