After living in Germany and the United States, French artist Andree Weimer has discovered the beauty of her homeland.
Weimer, who now resides in Flushing with her American-born husband and their two sons, and her family went on an extended visit to France this summer. She spoke of their travels for a Lunch With Books program at the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling in mid-July, only days after their return to the Ohio Valley.
She had not been in her home country for eight years, and this journey provided her with opportunities to explore parts of France that she had never seen during her childhood. Eager to see her extended family again, Weimer, 42, and her husband, David, planned the trip to coincide with the celebration of her grandmother's 90th birthday.
Weimer, who does paintings on commission and creates murals, decided to sell her prints online through her business, L'Artiste, to raise money for the expensive trip. Their sons, Guillaume, 9, and Benjamin, 6, even offered to sell their photography and artwork, respectively, to help the family cause.
The family traveled 10,000 miles in five weeks, she told the library audience. They traveled to Montreal, Canada, and took a direct flight to Nantes, France. They visited her mother in Rennes (the capital of Brittany); toured Normandy "where you guys came to save us in World War II," drove to Paris for two days, went to Provence to visit her father and took a bullet train back to Nantes.
"France is beautiful," she commented. "I never saw it - I only saw two towns when I was a kid. I knew a lot about America; I didn't know a thing about France."
Weimer said, "The minute I was in France, I knew I was going to use this travel experience." She took scores of photographs, with plans "to go home and paint" the scenes she saw. "It was really interesting for me to take pictures," she remarked. "I can't wait to paint all of this. I was truly, truly excited."
Everything from 15th-century buildings and old churches to beautiful gardens and little fountains inspired the artist, who declared at every turn, "I just can't wait to paint this, too." She reflected, "Something magical happened everywhere we went."
For two weeks of their trip, she said, "We took a vacation home, which is very inexpensive in France, a bit north of Rennes." A canal, built in the time of Napoleon and still working, is located next to the house. Showing a photo of the "gorgeous" scene, she said, "Every single picture I'm going to paint."
While visiting her mother, brother and grandmother, she said, "Every day, we would be invited for lunch and dinner. We ate and ate and it was really good. Especially for me who doesn't cook so good," she added.
Their next stop was St. Malo, a pirate city on the coast in Brittany, where her grandmother used to have a summer vacation home. "As a kid, I thought it was totally normal," Weimer said of the three-month-long summer stays. "Now I'm thinking, I was so lucky."
Unsecured German bunkers from World War II can be seen on the shore. "You can go in them and the tunnels. You can still see bullet holes. You see this all over the coast. We can still go there and see history and not forget about it," she observed.
Weimer related that during the war, the Germans took over her mother's family home and the family had to live in the attic. Weimer said the Americans came when her mother was 3, and "a GI gave her her first piece of chocolate. She still remembers the taste. In my family, we've always been raised with the idea that Americans saved us. I love you," she said to the library audience.
A high point, literally, of their trip was a visit to Mont St. Michel where monks started building a huge abbey in 1100. "It's gorgeous. It has a great view. It was so windy; it was very cold," she related. "Monks are still living in the abbey and still use it. The cloisters are so quiet and peaceful - it's just magical. I love to paint churches," she added.
In Normandy, they visited Omaha Beach, where the Allied forces landed, and Colleville-sur-mer, where the largest American military cemetery is located. "The first gardeners were the people who were saved by the Americans," she said.
The Weimers drove from Normandy to Paris to visit her aunt and cousins. In Paris, they endured long lines to buy tickets to go to the top of La Tour Eiffel (the Eiffel Tower). "It was very impressive. It was worth it," she said. They also toured the famous church, Sacre Coeur, located atop a hill in Montmartre, an area that attracts lots of artists, and went to the Louvre art museum.
A seven-hour drive took them to Provence, where they visited her father andstepmother. They toured a castle built in 1100 at Fontaine de Vauchese, attended a market day and visited Avignon, where popes built a palace.
Reflecting on their experiences, she commented, "It's easy to be a good cook when you're in France because everything is convenient there. It's easy to be a good painter because everything is so beautiful there."
Weimer, who was born in Rennes, France, said that after graduating from high school at age 18 in 1986, she decided "to see the world" and became a nanny for a German family in West Berlin. She quipped that she "became fluent in German with the help of 'Sesame Street."'
After arriving in Germany, she said, "I learned how much I like to learn languages and travel."
A year later, she began studies in software engineering and graduated in 1992. During 15 years in Germany, she worked for companies in Berlin and Stuttgart, then worked as a computer programing consultant and as a freelance software teacher. She traveled in Europe and Africa, discovering "a new world within five hours" of where she lived.
The story of how she came to live in the United States has a fairy tale quality: she married her American pen-pal of nearly 20 years. She explained that she and David began corresponding in their early teens and met in person when she was 18 and he was 19. "My dream was always to live in the States," she said. He returned to visit her in Europe in 1999, and they wed in 2000.
Their first son, Guillaume, was born in Germany in October 2000, shortly before they moved to Toulouse, France. They moved to the States in 2002; their second son, Benjamin, was born in Howell, Mich., in January 2004.
After arriving in the States, she stayed home and took care of their boys. One Christmas, her husband gave her brushes and paints, and she began creating art. "And now I can't stop," she said.
They spent two years in Michigan, her husband's home state. When they came to Wheeling for a meeting, they noticed it "looks like Europe" and decided that the Ohio Valley would be a nice area to rear children. They settled in Flushing, which she described as "a nice place."