Drawn and Quartered in France

Walking-eyeball tourism: staring long and hard at the completely obvious. WRITTEN AND ILLUSTRATED BY PETER MOORE

OK, maybe not so new, but plenty potent.

My buddy Vincent (Van Gogh) said it all, during his own walking-eyeball moment in Provence: “I’ll pick up my pencil that I put down in my great discouragement and I’ll get back to drawing, and from then on, it seems to me, everything has changed for me, everything has changed for me, and now I’m on my way and my pencil has become somewhat obedient and seems to become more so by the day.”

Cheer up, Vincent! You’ll get the hang of it!

I first encountered walking-eyeball tourism in San Antonio, when I came around a corner and discovered my sister-in-law Polly sitting in a picturesque little square, working from an adorable watercolor set and capturing the scene at that moment. Her head was cocked, her face contemplative, her hand active — she was claiming the scene by paying close attention to it. None of that take-a-quick-snap-and-forget-it stuff. She caressed the landscape onto the page.

And I thought: Damn, I want to do that!

A decade and lots of art classes later, I’m following in Polly’s brush strokes. I’ve travelled to many places, and brought home all kinds of souvenirs, but none of them matches the way I can capture a place or a landscape with pencil, ink, and watercolor. I’ve always been in a great rush to experience everything; I realize that I needed to slow down to actually see it.

Pencils up, Peter!

For instance, to record the windows of our AirBnb in Paris, looking out to the east, where the sun eventually streaked through the window.

Also rising, shining, and streaking was our neighbor across the street, who stood contemplatively naked in her window, by dawn’s early light. You can barely discern her in the shadows; she was as discreet as you can be, unclothed, standing in the window.

Other visual memories:

  • It reframes a city to see it from the water, which we did on Paris’ famous Bateaux Mouches. That translates to “water bugs” in French…so, we tourists are the fleas on a bug? Even so, the bateau was a great excuse to take a load off, after hoofing it around the Musee d’Orsay for three hours. Along the river route, I observed this cascade of citizens on a grand staircase heading down to the Seine.

They were sitting just a spark’s flight away from Notre Dame Cathedral, which is now covered in scaffolding — a vast renovation project. The blessing in all this: There was still something to renovate.

  • I love the street signs. Typiquement français.
  • And the cafe chairs.

Every little thing in France seems designed for maximum style and appeal. Oh, to wrap my hand around a café crème, and dose it with one of those skinny sugar packets.

  • After we conquered jet lag, we were off on the TGV, hurtling toward Bordeaux at 200 mph. At that speed it was hard to process the countryside, but I was able to make a comparison with a familiar landscape back home.
  • And then we arrived in Bordeaux, in our little apartment in the Old Town. Cool window here, too.

No naked lady, tant pis.

Off to St. Remy, next. That’s where Vincent Van Gogh was a) committed to an asylum, and b) completed 150 of the most arresting images in western art.

I’m hoping to go a little insane there myself, in fact.

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