The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

Living La Dolce Vita with Susan Ross Donohue, Canadian Artist & Francophile

The artist Susan Ross Donohue revels in city life, art, literature and anything that makes her laugh. She lives physically in Montreal but mentally in Paris. As she has such a good handle on La Dolce Vita, I asked her to share the sensory highlights of her travels and some advice on enjoying the sweet life even if you stay at home…

Most heart-stopping sight

Our first visit to Paris. My husband and I were very young, and this was our first time abroad. Upon arrival, we took the métro to Charles de Gaulle Étoile, the station closest to where our hotel was located. We walked up the stairs et voilà — there was the Arc de Triomphe just as I imagined it would be, only better. I was stunned. Speechless actually. But I have to say that this still applies. The Arc and the Eiffel still bring tears to my eyes, I’m not sure why.

Most intoxicating scent

The flowers — jasmine, lavendar, roses — in Grasse, in the south of France. Grasse is considered France’s perfume capital as it produces over two-thirds of the natural aromas used in perfumes. Touring Parfumerie Molinard is an education in itself. I thought I knew scents until I took the tour but then I found out how much more there is to learn! But, you don’t have to be an expert to appreciate the aromas of this area. Just breathe in and enjoy.

Dreamiest sound

This is strange — it wasn’t in France! My husband and I had driven from Nice to Sanremo, Italy, just across the border. While wandering through the town, we heard strains of a violin coming from the art gallery (which is what we were looking for in the first place). We went in to check out the art work only to discover the music was “live.” A girl was practicing the violin and she continued to play while we looked at the exhibition. No one in the gallery, which was called Tunnel Dell’Arte, spoke English or French, and our Italian is nil — but we did manage to understand she was practicing for a concert that night. We bought a small painting and the owner mimed that he could send it to us by air (with much flapping of the arms to get the idea across).

Most delicate flavors

It’s a toss-up between the hot dogs at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris and a white wine served at a dinner in the Loire Valley (unfortunately, I can’t remember the name).

Softest physical sensations

Walking in the Tuileries one day, we came across a man feeding the birds out of his hand. We were watching him when he motioned to me to put my hand out, and he filled it with seeds. Sure enough, these tiny little birds landed on my fingers to have their lunch. This was an amazing feeling. Very delicate, very soft, very special.

Most interesting unexpected encounter with another human being

There is no one particular person that I can single out because we’ve always had nothing but good experiences with people during our travels — I’m remembering, for instance, an entire café full of people trying to find a street address for us.

A place that stimulates all five senses

Montmartre stimulates all five senses with the mixture of music, art and restaurants. Further up the hill in Montmartre is the local vineyard, the wonderful restaurant La Maison Rose and the Lapin Agile cabaret, with its fascinating history. I couldn’t go to Paris without some time in Montmartre. I especially like going on a week night, when it’s a bit quieter, and I can picture Picasso, Modigliani or Utrillo sitting at a café talking about art. Bliss.

Favorite contemporary artist with a sense of dolce vita

The American pop artist Jim Dine is a favorite. I’ve loved his work for years and have met him a few time at exhibition openings. He is equally talented in printmaking, painting and sculpture. His work is very personal, but the viewer doesn’t feel like an intruder.

Favorite historical artist

Who had more heart and soul than Van Gogh? To see a real Van Gogh is a totally different experience from seeing a reproduction. This is something else that led me to tears the first time I saw one of his canvases. (Truly, I don’t cry a lot — Paris seems to do that to me!)

Favorite travel quote

″A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.”
– Moslih Eddin Saadi

We travel to open our minds and hearts, and to learn from the experience. For me observation is the whole point of traveling.

Advice for living la dolce vita at home

La dolce vita is whatever you want it to be. Try evenings with a particular country theme — a Spanish night with paella, a Parisian evening with raclette, French wine and music. All the information you need is on the Internet: recipes, lessons for learning a foreign language, instructions for adding a foreign touch to your decor… The possibilities are endless.

Susan Ross Donohue is an artist who lives in Montréal, Canada. She makes frequent trips to Paris, a city she considers her second home. Her travels are recorded in her blog Life, Laughter and Paris, and you can see her artwork — much of which is inspired by the sights and sounds of Paris — at her art site, Susan Ross Donohue. Follow Susan on Twitter (@srossdon) and on Facebook.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s bulletin from Woodhaven, where our fictional heroine, Libby, is not so much courting trouble as dragging it handcuffed to the altar. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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Images: Susan Ross Donohue in her favorite city;  “L’Accordéoniste,” one of her paintings.

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