Special Places


Dear Artist,

Several times I’ve been back to a place in southern France — an old farm-home converted into self-contained suites. Mas Peychonnier, with a commanding view and under the eye of a mysterious Cathar castle, presides over its grapefields.


“Pot, Wine-Glass and Book” 1908 oil on canvas by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

At first I didn’t find much of interest. I rambled the area on foot, drove my Alfa here and there on the tiny, wandering roads. The highlands around are barren, windswept. Villages of stone and masonry as well as severe, compact farms are scattered in the valley grapelands. The wine industry in France works on the system of appellation — grapes from each vineyard go to the same bottle, same name. Neighbors here produce unique marques, using guarded family secrets and ancient privilege. Even the grape-carts must not be moved from one farm to another for fear of contamination. Here, ancient, broken-wheeled grape-carts were dumped and deserted in hedges and farmyards in the same way that North Americans abandon their cars. These horse-drawn carts, while of a style, are all a bit different. One by one I paint them where they sit.

A new environment is a tonic for the eyes. We bring to it less than the regular baggage. This area is a triumph of ochre and umber. Even the villages have little color. But the carts are bright — professionally painted, striped and limned, their bodies often a remarkable light blue. These farmers are surprised that I find such a thing worthy of paint. I have come to realize that the locals are hardly aware of the carts — their familiarity and commonality has erased them from generations of sight.


“Pipe, Glass, Bottle of Vieux Marc” 1914 block-printed, white-laid, wove, and wood pulp paper, newspaper, charcoal, India ink, printer’s ink, graphite, and gouache on fine linen unprimed canvas by Pablo Picasso

Best regards,


PS: “One must learn to be grateful for one’s own findings.” (Eugene Delacroix)

Esoterica: The principle of “Microcosm” takes vivid form in Life with Picasso, by Francoise Gilot and Carlton Lake. In this candid book we get an idea of the kind of serial obsession that drove Picasso. A firing-cap for an explosion of productivity is to grab something and explore it.


“The old grape cart and the Chateau” acrylic painting by Robert Genn (1936-2014)







This letter was originally published as “Special Places” on December 19, 2000.



  1. Always a good reminder to see with fresh eyes no matter where we are. A lovely painting to go with such wise words. Picasso’s are nice too :=)). I have a deep admiration for your father, for you, and for you connection and appreciation of each other. Not a given. Inspiring. Thanks as always for sharing!

  2. Seeing with the fresh eye is the start.
    Processing with the 3rd eye, the visible wedded to invisible, is the process. We value physical too much. It is okay as long as we understand it is the jumping board not the whole.

  3. Thank you, Sarah, for republishing your father’s letter. It was a very worthy read, and what a nice touch to include one of his paintings of the carts. I would like to see more of your father’s works included with his messages. /c

  4. “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.” Marcel Proust

    love Picasso’s pot-glass-and book!

    Thank You for this post.

    • Sarah, I so enjoy your Dad’s letters and yours. They always give me a lift, an inspiration and sometimes a few tears flow. Thanks for continuing your Dad’s presence. He’s not really gone.

  5. It is always a pleasure to see the ‘ordinary’ from a different perspective. It was a pleasure to see your father’s painting of the ‘ordinary’ grape cart. I look forward to reading the weekly letters for the diversity of subject and for the inspirational and motivational messages provided. Thank you for sharing.

  6. As soon as I saw France I was hooked. I felt the same excitement while in Costa Rica though when I saw the farmers with their carts. My brother, the chauffeur, could not understand my fascination. The locals see the charm well enough to make souvenirs for tourists, but I find these to be too commercial and lacking in the individual farmer’s particular taste. It is also fascinating and encouraging to see that Picasso was also inspired by inconsequential objects and forms.

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