I wish I could remember more about her, like her name. Was she a mother, what kind of house did she live in, how old was she? But I cannot, and it was very long ago and there is no one left to ask. It was the summer of 1974, and I was an art student in Nice, France – the Cote d’Azu. Every weekday morning my friend, Kathy, and I would walk from our room at the Universite de Nice to a second-floor studio with huge windows, wooden easels, and tremendous light. Our journey would take us through the animated and noisy French Market in downtown Nice. There were colorful market umbrellas and plucked chickens hanging upside down, wild rabbits that needed skinning, color wheels of vegetables from the neighboring countryside, Frenchmen speaking quickly and bargaining loudly and there were flowers, buckets and buckets of fresh cut flowers and everyone bought a bouquet; everyone had fresh flowers on their table each night for dinner. It was intense, this snapshot of life close to the Earth, this snapshot of the sights, sounds, and smells of southern France, a place where the air was sometimes misty, the food was fresh and real, and the people were flourishing and happy under the Mediterranean sun.
The personification of this physical experience could be found in one of our studio models. She too would walk through the market each weekday morning, I would sometimes watch her from one of the oversized windows as she strolled through the dense market, happy and ready to have a wonderful day. Along the way she would gather fresh fruit and baguettes and of course, fresh flowers. She carried it all in an oversized straw basket that was very old, filled with character and the day’s supply of food. She wore a summer dress of sorts, one very simple and minimal, for she was a nude model, and she was able to dismiss it without much effort or fumbling. She had sandals on her feet and her hair was long and gray and loosely gathered in a large clip; again, easy to take out and tumble on her shoulders and cast shadows and interesting lines for us to sketch.
The thing I remember most about her was her smile, the radiance she brought to class each morning, as we stood behind our easels, still sleepy from the night before, and there she was with flowers and joie de vivre; content to be exactly where she was. She could not speak much English, but that was okay, her smile spoke of life and passion and happiness. I remember thinking she seemed to have been “old” to be a model, especially a nude model, but she was so comfortable with who she was; that transformed into her remarkable and memorable beauty.
Strangely, I am probably nearing the age now that she was then and I reflect on who she was; someone, I suspect, who had sorted out all the foolishness in life and was capturing the core each morning, each day with just picked flowers and a freshly baked baguette in her old straw basket, and simplicity in her summer dress and in her life.
February 12, 2023