Just finished this portrait commission (actually still finishing it) Also, an excerpt from day 2 in Quebec. Stay tuned for day 3, a bad dog fight! Also details on upcoming show at Alliance Française.
This is a detail of a portrait commission
Above is the final… still in progress
this is the first step, blocking in the composition…
…and now back to Québec, here’s a live journal entry with my notes of dog sled tips from a pro…
And here’s an excerpt from DAY 2 , “French emersion at 20 below”
I had met the current 2 owners/guides of the Matawin lodge last summer for an overnight visit. Jean-Christophe and his wife Michele bought the lodge in 2007. They were raised and trained in Savoie France near the alps. They spent their lives in winter sports. Like Swiss Bergfürers (alpine guides), France requires a rigorous 4 years of training and testing before being a certified “Guide de traîneau de chiens” (dog sled guide). Jean-Chistophe said no such standard exists in the U.S. for dog sled guides.
The lodge was a cozy, wood heated, solar powered, energy efficient , log structure with wireless internet and cell service. Aperatifs were served during “coctail hour” from 6;00-7:00. We sipped local micro brew beer and watched a you tube documentary (on a giant flat screen) in french about North and South Korea. Around 7:00 I was very hungry and was beginning to worry that dinner was earlier and I had missed it when i smelled delicious curry baroma’s wafting from the kitchen and “À table!” was announced . Of course! These are French! You’re not going to bed hungry or without a very lively 2 hour dinner conversation. Subjects ranged from Canadian wildlife stories, mushing techniques and dog nutrition, to world politics and religion. Unlike most U.S. dinner conversation taboos, different opinions on politics and religion are not only welcome in french dinner topics but essential. The feast included curried chicken on rice, homemade bread and butter, red and white french wines, a plate of cheeses, coconut tapioca au chocolat for dessert. The day ended perfect. Tanook slept inside the cozy wood-heated guest cabin with me and 5 others, auberge style: 4 french, one Belgian, and one American.
Above is a shot of Rivière St. Maurice at 5 k on the correct route to the dogsled outpost
DAY TWO, March 3
As dawn’s arctic rose fingers touched the sky, the temperature hovered around 20 below zero Farenheit. Today was a perfect day of French mushing. Perfect cold sunny weather, homemade french food, new international friends, and not a single word of English was spoken, yet lively french dialogue never stopped. As a pathological francofile, I have driven to Quebec at least 30 times since 2001 just to immerse myself in french language and culture. This was my first trip to Quebec where I didn’t have to strain to translate the 17th century patois/”franglais” spoken in Quebec into french spoken in France. Everyone was french!
Our expert French mushing guide,Jean-Christophe, does not fit the profile many Americans may have of a stereotypical “frenchman”. Clearly cultural differences exist but to avoid offending either my French or my American friends, a “typical Frenchman” is as impossible a label as a “typical American”. To me, Jean-Chistophe fit more the profile of a Gaulic or Viking warrior with a light sense of humor. French comic strip character Asterix’s rotund partner, Odelix came to mind. Except, unlike Odelix, Jean-Christophe is fit instead of fat and competent instead of bungling. Jean Christophe is a barrel chested, solid 6 feet of hard working muscle. In full mushing gear, he looked huge and intimidating, and his voice was deep and booming over the roar of barking sled dogs. This is an important trait when breaking up serious dog fights, which happened the next day.
No dog fights today. We covered 35 kilometers of pristine winter wilderness trails. There were 5 sleds with 6 dogs each: Jean-Christophe leading followed by Belgian client “Annie”, then me, then the two “handlers” Jeremy (a young professional musher from Lyon, France) and, in “sweep” position was Jean-Baptiste, a 31-year-old Parisian building contractor and part-time musher.
The start was a familiar 30 minute chaotic frenzy of deafening howls, shouts, harnessing and hitching dogs, and waiting for the release from the anchor posts. One by one, the quick release calbes were tugged free and each sled was off like a sprinter out of the blocks. Instantly, the deafening, howls stopped and the only sound was the “huh, huh, huh” breathing of my six dogs and the clean soft, hiss of sled runners on hard cold snow “ssssssshhhhhh”. No offensively loud 2-stroke roar of snow mobile engines here. The sensation was familiar to me. Like running a whitewater rapid in a canoe or catching a strong wind with a sail, or maybe even horseback riding; harnessing and feeling the power of a force of nature taps some primal genetic knowledge of travel that has existed in our genetic memory for thousands of years before the invention of internal combustion engine.
The first sharp left turn, flipped Annie’s sled in front of me. She held fast and pulled the sled back upright. The first rule of mushing is “LACHE PAS!” (never let go!”) A mile later, my sled flipped on a sharp right turn. I did not “lache’. Flipping a sled is as common for experts as well as beginners. Jean-Baptiste flipped on the same turn I did.
Lunch break at Branche du Nord, a public auberge or “gite d’etat”
Back at the lodge that evening, Jean-Baptiste (or “Jeh Beh” for short) replayed on his laptop his video from a head cam attached to his sled handlebar. He performed daredevil stunts (“Casse cou”) for the camera while his sled was in motion, posing while balancing on the sled frame. “Ha! An extreme selfie” I told him. He chuckled. His english was the best of our group (although “selfie” is as international as “google”) but he caught my scowl of disapproval whenever he broke into english for my benefit. “En français je t’en prie J.B.!”
The dinner and conversation that evening surpassed even the happiness and “après ski” glow of the previous night. (By the way, the expression “après ski” doesn’t exist in French.) Two minor casualties of the 20 below zero conditions last night: 1. My laptop died in my car and the hard drive had to be erased and reinstalled back at the Apple store in the U.S. and 2. my dinner gift of a bottle of Mouton Cadet red wine froze, then thawed, ejecting the cork, yet passed the test of approval of a true frenchman’s pallet. Jean-Christophe sipped cautiously, paused thoughtfully, and gave a french verdict “Bahhh, c’est bon! Bon appetite!” We ate a hearty fill of scrumptious lentil stew, sausages with mustard, ample bread and butter, red, rose and white french wines, and Michele’s homemade tarte de la mason, tarte aux pommes. A perfect day. Tomorrow I will experience my first serious sled dog fight.