En plein air is a French expression which means “in the open air,” and is particularly used to describe the act of painting outdoors.
I started scanning the sidewalks at the beginning of May. Each year, Vicki Gotcher arrives around the same time as the horse chestnut blossoms. She walks to a location, unfolds her chair and painting supplies and begins painting scenes of life on Rue Mouffetard. She *may* also sell postcards of her paintings on the street. And since one needs a permit for such things and she *may* not have one, she *may* have her friend (seated next to her in the photo above) watch for the coppers. Her friend Monique *may* have been a Communist spy in her youth so this side gig *may* be a perfect fit. Vicki packs an extra guest chair for when company arrives.
These two lovely silver haired beauties chat and sit at different locations up and down the street. Vicki paints. Monique spies. Everyone is happy.
Last year, when Christophe and I were a new couple, I relied on Vicki to give me the dirt on this guy. She gets more gossip in her one month from that guest chair than I do all year. She gave me the goods that Christophe was a good egg. And this year, I was happy to saddle up next to her and show her my engagement ring, confirming that he was, indeed, a good egg.
We talked a little about our lives over the past year, but mostly we talk about art. “The key is to keep doing it,” she said. “That’s how you make a living at it.” And she should know. She is able to pay for a month in Paris each year by profits made from the postcards she *may or may not* sell on the street as she paints. While I sat with her, others came up to; tourists wanting to buy postcards and the locals wanting to be added to the paintings. She’s a legend on this street and everyone wants to make their way into her scenes.
“And when I add them, I’d better make sure the painting is flattering because they come back to check,” she says.
The homeless guitar player stopped by and pointed out the painting she did of him, puffing out his chest with pride. He noted that he was wearing the same pink shirt that day as in the painting. I laughed and nodded, knowing that he wears that pink shirt every day.
Later, I was telling Christophe how this woman amazes me, how she seems lit from within. He nodded and said, “It’s because she has always done what makes her happy. Like you!”
Oh my stars. I haven’t always done what made me happy, but I’m starting to, and if it means being lit from within like Vicki, bring it on.
She often paints the same buildings but years apart. Some of the decor and people change, plus her technique becomes more refined over time. Notice the two paintings of the same scene below. The café sign is new. When Julie & Julia was filmed on this street, the film embellished a few storefronts and let the stores keep the signs after the shoot. Nice.
The chestnut blossoms are gone now, as is Vicki, back to her regularly scheduled life in America. But I’m sure she’ll be back next May, sitting in her chair, painting and chatting about life on Rue Mouffetard. And I’ll be right there, too, saddled up next to her. That is, if Monique doesn’t get there first. She’s a sly one, that Monique.