Saturday, October 13, 2018

Amongst the Waves at Lac d'Annecy

Catamaran Race on Lac d'Annecy
Amongst the Waves of Lac d’Annecy
travel memoir
by Gregory E. Larson

           The gentle waves of pristine water lapped the dock posts and the shore of Lac d’Annecy at the foot of the French Alps. The afternoon breeze was growing with the temperature in the low 70s, although for two people from Kansas (my friend Mary Anne and I), it seemed to be in the slight breeze category. We stood on shore, watching the white, modern water-taxi slowly jostle its way to the edge of the dock, guided by the young, sandy-haired captain of the boat.

Water Taxi approaching

          In weeks of anticipation of the chartered boat ride, I’d envisioned a sleek wooden boat of golden-brown color with a finish of glossy marine varnish. Although, the white taxi looked very sea-worthy and appeared to have the power to quickly get us around the lake.
           “Allo!” said the young driver of the boat as he stepped up on the dock and looked at me. The eyes of the tourists eating at the lakeside cafĂ© turned our way to watch us board the taxi. He reached out his hand and spoke with a French accent. “My name is Thibault. And your name?”
          With the exotic setting in the Alps, I was very tempted to say, “Bond . . . James Bond.” But my senses got the better of me. “I’m Greg . . . and this is my friend Mary Anne.”
Author and Mary Anne in the Water Taxi
          Thibault responded, “Oui, I can show you some points of interest around the lake, but tell me if there is something specific you want to see.”
          “I’m an artist. I paint watercolors, and I’d like to photograph a castle, chateau, or church along the shore to use as my inspiration to paint. I’d also like to get some good mountain backgrounds as well.”
Abbaye de Talloires at the foot of the Alps
          “Yes,” said Thibault, “We can do that. Let’s go.” We settled in the boat and pulled away from the resort of Abbaye de Talloires. It was worthy of a movie setting. The deep water reflected colors of turquoise and emerald green. As a backdrop to the old resort, the deciduous trees were just beginning to turn their fall colors. Behind them, upwards on the mountain slopes stood the conifers of deep forest green. Capping the view at the sky were the massive cliffs which seemed to announce to the world: Here we stand guard at the west end of the European Alps! Artistic views appeared at every turn on the lake.
          The artful setting did not go unnoticed by impressionist and cubist painter, Paul Cezanne. In the summer of 1896 he stayed at the Abbaye, which had originally been the home of a group of Benedictine Monks. It was abandoned by the monks after the French Revolution, and in 1862 the portion of the building that was built in 1681 became a hotel.
Paul Cezanne's 1896 painting of Chateau de Duingt on Lac d'Annecy
          Cezanne painted many scenes around Lac d’Annecy in both watercolor and oils. His most famous painting of that summer, Lac d’Annecy, was a view of the Chateau de Duingt, which is the castle located across the lake from the Abbaye. This was a time when Cezanne cultivated his cubist ideas of making geometric forms out of what he saw in his surroundings.
Chateau de Duingt on Lac d'Annecy
          I tend to paint more realistic detail, but I hoped that whatever pixy dust of Paul Cezanne remained in the surroundings, that some of it would fall on me as I searched for subject matter.
          Thibault steered the boat across the small end of the lake to give us a good view of the famous Chateau de Duingt. He slowed the engine and allowed me to snap several pictures.
          “I am told that a family with three children live in the castle. For income they have some of the surrounding buildings set up as a bed and breakfast hotel, and they rent out the grounds for large parties for weddings and family events.”
          We followed the western shore and stopped at spots to view interesting church spires or large chateaus, but I wasn’t pleased with any of the pictures. The mountains were so huge and once I zoomed on the buildings, the peaks were lost. Thibault steered the boat around a peninsula and the large north end of the lake came into view. Voila, a sailboat race of small catamarans was in progress. That’s when my creative juices started to flow.
          I turned and looked at Thibault, then pointed to the boats. “We must go there. I want to take as many sailboat pictures as possible. Try to stop on the south side of the race so the sun will be good for the photos.”

Sailing on Lac d'Annecy
2018 original watercolor by
Gregory E. Larson
          When he turned the water-taxi and accelerated, some of the wave-spray sprinkled our faces, and the whole afternoon came alive. He closed in on the race, cut the engine, and we began to bob like a cork. I jumped like a little kid from one spot in the boat to another to get good views of the moving catamarans as they rounded the race buoys. I focused on composing each picture of sails and mountains, which was difficult while using a zoom lens.
          The sailboats were bobbing in the water and the participants were shouting and laughing at each other in French. Was this catamaran race smack-talk? I couldn’t make out the words, but there were spirited exchanges of shouting between the boats. I guessed they were saying things like, “Get out of the way you waterlogged bucket! We’re coming through!” I felt like I was in a virtual carnival ride, with the wind, water, and the colorful sails moving at a rapid pace.

Focused on sailboats
          Thibault kept following the race and repositioning the boat for me to continue taking photos. My mind was racing along with the boats, trying to find the most colorful groupings and nice backdrops. I’d hit the motherlode in terms of inspiration for watercolors. Les Petits Catamarans! Tears of joy came to my eyes as the boats continued racing.
          I smiled with a thumbs-up to Mary Anne and realized she was taking a picture of me taking pictures of the sailboats. In that moment, I was convinced that the boat ride on the lake had made the entire trip to France worthwhile.
Les Petits Catamarans
2018 original watercolor by
Gregory E. Larson