From Diana Palmer

30 Mar - 19 Apr 2018

Trélex was my first residency and an appetising taste of creative freedom. I arrived at the end of March this year and already I am imagining going back – and for longer next time. It was three weeks of exceptional physical and mental space, as well as stimulating discussions with the other artists. I became more engaged with my ideas, working methods and influences, and followed the threads of my art practice more rigorously than normal.

My work is based in painting and spatial relations, so the mountainous landscape and the uniquely designed Maison Binet made a strong impression. In my first week at Trélex I absorbed the space, countryside, architecture, light, colours, textures and atmosphere. I took loads of photos, creating a reference library of images. I quickly got to know my fellow residents, Crimson Boner and Min Kim. Even though she was in New Zealand, I met the residency’s formidable founder, Nina Rodin, via Skype on my first night. Nina’s commitment to the residency and its artists is truly limitless!

Every morning I made loose cumulative pencil drawings on paper, reacting to my surroundings with simple lines. I now want to merge the drawings in a moving image piece emphasising fluidity. I started painting by responding to the fast-changing light and weather of the Jura mountains. These elements mixed with ideas I had arrived with for continuing work.

I worked in diluted acrylic with large brushstrokes, seeking a sense of fluidity and intuitive bodily movement.    Since visiting the Ugandan jungle last year I have been working on paintings of that lush landscape and it was a continuing subject for me at Trélex. Working from images of the all-encompassing vegetation of the rainforest, I began picking out individual leaves with loose brush marks to create a minimal composition.

This jungle painting with its curving composition sparked an idea that the shape of a swag (a drooping curve) could be a useful starting point for work relating to flow and performance. I had brought with me a photo of myself paragliding, images of my grandmother performing as a dancer in the 1950s, and photos of the life drawings I had made over the previous few months. These interests could be combined in the creation of swag shapes, suggesting a theatrical space where performing figures might merge with their environment. I immediately started planning pieces around this theme for a solo show I am working towards in September. I experimented with painting a piece of cotton fabric hung loosely from the beams above the studio space. I also drew swag-shaped objects and played with fabric hung inside the back of a wooden panel to suggest a stage.

But Trélex was more than just an opportunity to reflect on my practice. The residency is a chance to become part of a global community of artists. I made connections with many other artists: Min, Crimson and Nina, as well as previous residents and those represented in the substantial library of books in the studio. Discovering their work and processes, as well as drawing encouragement from them and sharing inspiration with them, was an invaluable part of my stay at Trélex. I feel very lucky to be part of our ongoing chats.It was hard to leave Trélex and return to normal life but I came back to London invigorated, with a lot of work in progress and a determination to commit more energy to developing my practice, as well as to continue and begin conversations with other artists. Trélex provides a precious opportunity for many types of artists and I will always be grateful to Nina for creating it and encouraging artists through this generous offering of supportive engagement and creative freedom.

From Crimson Boner

28 Mar - 16 Apr 2018

The views near my home are stunning, the beach and the estuary.
The cost of living is such that I work and my husband works two jobs. We have two children and I spend my life juggling these commitments. I feel worried about money most days.

But, every day I walk across our beautiful bridge and allow myself a few minutes to enjoy the estuary. The mud is viscous and glossy, sometimes pricked by birds footprints; deep, tidy tridents in the gloop. 

The materiality of the mud gives me great pleasure. I love the huge swoop of sky above the river, reflected in the glass bridge.
It's a tidal river, so the view changes all day, every day.  It's my daily ritual; a moment of gratitude and of placing myself. I know many others who live here enjoy this too. 
This bridge is a stunning piece of design, engineering and collaboration. Time was needed for all aspects of its conception and construction and it is appreciated every day by so many.

I was taught at SOAS that the flint axe, was the first piece of art, that we know of. I was taught that Egyptian culture was rich in artefacts because of the material richness of the Nile and consequent wealth of the civilisation. That art preserved for posterity was funded and bought by those with the time and money to do so. That financial inequality and the story of power is reflected in the story of art, and as such, that much is lost. 
That art is an event; a ritual; a celebration. Art is a conduit and a vessel for ideas and practice, shaping and reflecting the community. Art is a conversation and artists need and long for community and discussion. 

Trelex gave me the time to reflect on my place in the world and the place of art in the world. Time to reflect on time. 

Trelex reminds me of working for Tom Morris, when he was Director of BAC. He knew that artists needed support and time; to play; to discuss; to innovate; to make mistakes and ultimately to make and develop work. He nurtured those processes and gave artists the time and space they needed. He created a dialogue between artists in different forums ('a Beer for an Idea') and got artists together to make unexpected work, e.g 'Jerry Springer The Opera'.

Trelex works on the same understanding, that artists may follow a thread intensively without knowing where it will lead. The process is to drift; to look; to read; to discuss; to make; to look again; to make mistakes; to make discoveries. And time and community are essential to the process. 
You do not need to state your intention or objective in order to be accepted. You just have to be an artist, to apply and turn-up. 

Cuts to arts funding sideline art in state schools. Artists, like everyone else, are coping with the pressures of meeting basic human needs. How can they make time to make work when they can barely afford to pay the rent and buy food? 

As artists, young and old, we internalise these negative cultural messages about art; is art unnecessary, frivolous, an indulgence. Or perhaps art is an elite practice for the few who are wealthy enough to be able to indulge.

As a mother of two, it is extremely difficult for me to take time to myself. Instead, I worry that I should be earning money; looking after my children; and cleaning my house. 
How do I justify pursuing a process with an outcome which is uncertain? 
To make art is to make mistakes; to follow whims; to have accidental successes; joy found in drifting, discovery and losses.
Trelex helped me to see that without the artistic process, I am not a well person. I am not a fully functioning person. I am also failing my community. 

What Nina has created is hugely generous and extraordinarily insightful. 
This is a residency open to all artists of all media and all levels of professionalism. Acknowledging that all artists start somewhere. That all of us share common needs and that success in art is not necessarily chronological.  That if you get a bunch of artists together, ideas will flourish. That artists are hugely influenced by each other. 
It is an egalitarian approach and sidesteps the entrenched elitism of academia and the art world; an elitism which protects assets, but does not necessarily benefit the artistic process.

I had very little belief in myself and my practice when I arrived at Trelex. But what I found there was a community; and time. I was gifted time. 
It was a shock at first, after 10 years of mothering. A real shock. To have time. To be important enough to be allowed time to myself. To drift. Not the usual dismiss and prioritisation of my thoughts, but just to observe them with curiosity and follow where theyed me. 

Nina has an incredible library and so I carried a sack of books around for the whole time I was there. My beautiful, single accommodation was just off the huge shared studio. So I made work whenever I wanted to, without having to fit it into an allotted time slot. It came when it was ready and I purged and painted and drew, without a schedule, but I worked every day.
I sat in the garden and drew. I made films. I listened to music. I danced. I ate. I cried. I took long showers.
I talked intensively to the two other artists on the residency. 
I listened to their processes and their obsessions and looked at their work. That was probably the most exciting time for me. I loved hearing about their fascinations and looking at their work. 
We shared stories, supported and nurtured each other. We each expressed the value of this community; this time to share, the importance of having others look at and discuss our work. 

I became alive again. I started to see paintings and images. 
They moved more quickly through my mind than I could capture them. Washes of colours ; big, sloshy, brushmarks; ironies; insights; coincidences. 
I began to see myself, my processes, my motivations, again. They weren't lost, they were thriving and wriggling and vital.It felt like just the beginning. 

Perhaps it is the beginning?
I hope that I can keep this feeling. This way of working. 
Can I justify putting time aside to make work, regardless of whether it sells or not. Regardless of its success and failure. 
To believe that unforeseen things will come if I invest time in the process.
I hope that I can keep in contact with those artists, to keep the dialogue going. 

Thank you to Nina, to Trelex. For understanding what an artist needs and for nurturing that and making it a reality. For accepting artists in all their guises. For allowing me to be part of it all. Me.
I have often felt  disenfranchised as a mother, not relevant. Not a part of the dialogue. Not  enough. 

On a personal level it has been a very special experience.
For Nina to open her family home to accomplish this is incredible. 

Nina I am humbled by your generosity ; grateful for your courage; in awe of your insight; and spurred on by your tenacity.
But in knowing you, I am not surprised that you have accomplished this.

Trelex in itself is a great leap of faith, a collaboration and a process that I am hugely grateful and proud to have been a part of.

From Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

02 Jan - 7 Mar 2018

This has been my second visit to Trélex, my first time here was one year ago almost to the day. The first stay was two and a half weeks, this time round has been two and a half months. I don’t want to talk a lot about my work and the relationship of my practice and the time spent here – in my last blog post I talked about the value of the freedom and access to play which in my “real” life is often drowned out, made methodical and suppressed. 

For this post, I want to talk about the experiences, conversations and foods that were brought to the residency table by the other people I met and lived with during my time here, each with individual practices, approaches to their art and to life in general. And whilst each of us had our own deadlines and goals during our time here, when we came together, went to shows, shared food or read tarot, I can’t express how amazing I found each of these artists. They are all female, all from different backgrounds and all with stories and views of the world which I found completely inspiring and intriguing. 

There is of course Nina Rodin, the Danish, supremely busy and methodical, permanent artist in residence who incredibly has had three solo shows during the past 2.5 months, in New York, Geneva and Maastricht! Feline Minne, a Belgian artist currently completing her PhD in London who I found incredibly intriguing and engaging, and for me becomes her art. Rachel Levitsy, an unfailingly generous and spirited poet from New York and her companion and partner in crime who channels his cuteness up through his ears. Min Kim, from South Korea and currently breaking trends and uprooting the regime whilst living in Amsterdam, even if she and they don’t realise it yet. Of course, Abi Box, who we all know and who maintains her art practice and the practices of so many people all the way across the pond in Bermuda! And special mention to Anaïs Rodin, my partner in cake, who may be the most incredible one of us all yet. 

I hope future artists will continue to find solace and inspiration in the landscape, time, air, silence and everything that the Trélex Residency has to offer. Artists may bring their own tools and weapon of choice for tackling their creativity, but for me it has been the people who I have found to be the biggest source of stimulation for my beliefs and way of thinking. It is a gross understatement to say that what the Trélex Residency and Nina Rodin offer is rewarding, fulfilling and invaluable. It is such a rare and special thing – for the Rodin family to open up their lives and routine to each passing creative in an incredibly generous way that cannot be measured. The studio here is a cocoon with conditions ready to incubate and gestate ideas, before releasing them back out into the world. It will have a lasting impact on my life as an artist and will no doubt do the same for all future artists, and make a world which seems strained against the threat of fracture closer and more interconnected, bit by bit. 

So after 2.5 months, 4 visual artists, 1 poet, 2 dogs and countless blocks of cheese, I will keep wishing I had just one more week here though I am off on another adventure and will hopefully return back to Trélex one day.

From Féline Minne

08 - 16 Jan 2018

I spent one week at the Artist Residency in Trélex, Switzerland (8 January - 16 January 2018), where I made 28 drawings in which I appropriated my sketchbook imagery.

Every time I go to an artist residency, I learn something about human encounters and communication skills. What I learned at the Artist Residency in Trélex, Switzerland, is how to remain positive while deferring a question about my work. Nina Rodin, the founder, is very helpful and generous. She loves looking and talking about other people’s work. This has been particularly helpful to me because I like looking at my work together with other people. I believe this reveals a lot about the person who is looking rather than facts about the actual work. Before I came to this residency, when asked a question that isn’t relevant to me in relation to my work, I was used to answering: ‘No, that’s not what it’s about.’ That's an honest answer, but people don't like hearing 'no' or that they got it wrong. Thanks to Nina, I learned that it’s better to say: ‘That’s a very interesting question. Thank you for bringing that up. However, I haven’t thought about it in that way, so I don’t know. Maybe it will come to me later. In the meantime, can we talk about…’.  No one is born a good communicator. This is something one has to learn. By writing this blog post, I wish to share this tip with my peers. Hopefully, it can be helpful to you.

Now that I am back home in London, I’m looking for a studio to rent, so that I can translate these images onto a larger scale and with different materials in order to further explore the mingling realms of fantasy and reality, invention and observation.

Féline Minne

From Carly Dorrington

24 Nov 2017 - 4 Jan 2018

My time at Trelex was so much more than I could of expected. It was my first artist residency and I was as equally apprehensive as I was excited. I tried not to have too many expectations for my time spent in the studio and whilst wanting to make the most of this gift, I also wanted to let things flow.
As an artist that is always trying to balance other commitments and longing for uninterrupted time to play and explore this was an absolute blessing for me.

Nina and her family were friendly, accommodating and very relaxed. I felt very welcomed and comfortable setting up base and transforming the studio into a perfect working environment. As my residency was just under two months over the festive season, I knew I had time to explore and work solidly in the studio.

For the first week it was hard to start up my rusty train brain and I began with simple activities, collecting materials, painting forms, but also hugely procrastinating and being lazy which I think was a vital step before I could really get into a state of flow with my work. The time to research and read from Nina's extensive library was also a vital part of the process. I found this helped me to question my own work and where I wanted to go, what materials I could play with. I found staring out the windows with a fresh coffee always seemed to help. The sky and light in Switzerland is very special luminous, clear and fresh.

Nina was great at explaining what materials and items were available for use and generously let us use her car for short trips and for finding materials. She was also equally helpful through out my stay, suggesting new techniques, artists and inspirations, though busy with her own projects and travels, she always found time to check in and was genuinely excited when I set up my installation at the end of my residency.

Trelex itself is a sleepy small town with lots of character, the house has a beautiful vast garden and plenty of local walks and hikes. I quickly discovered on the coldest days, my favorite thing to do was to jump on the small train close to the house and travel up to the french boarder, stopping at smaller towns along the way, I have never seen such pure white snow and it felt like stepping out into a new world. I can only imagine how beautiful it must be during the summer months.

I also took several trips into Geneva, around the whole lake and even to Mont Blanc, these trips and landscapes were in a way as inspiring as my time spent working, to feel the sense of awe again, staring at a huge mountain was such a refreshing feeling, which gave me huge amounts of energy.

I found having my room so close to my studio spot gave me such a relaxed feeling, having the ease and freedom to work during the evening was great. The days were so beautiful I would often go for a local run or walk to start my day and then work all evening. Most days I would wake eager to get started and it was truly great to feel an uninterrupted enthusiasm again without concerning myself with any other outside distractions my days fell into a rhythm of simply, reading, researching, creating, walking and eating. It was a great recipe for me and my work. I slept soundly every single night.

I cant recommend this residency enough and will be ever thankful to Nina for her support to artists, generosity and openness. It is very rare to have and opportunity like this without the huge headache of a lengthy application process and it offers artist the most important thing… time. I returned to my studio  in Berlin in January with lots of claret, eagerness to continue down new pathways and excited to play with more new ideas and materials.

I cant wait to go back.

From Shameera Wiest

31 Oct - 23 Nov 2017

“When people concentrate on the idea of beauty, they are, without realizing it, confronted with the darkest thoughts that exist in this world. That, I suppose, is how human beings are made.”  ― Yukio Mishima, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion  

Here at the Trélex residency, I am surrounded by all that is beautiful and pure. Air--pollution free. Nature-- mountains all around me. Nurture-- a warm home to think and create..  

But coming to Trelex from Beijing,  I cannot find release from the grey smog that has been my near-daily companion for the last year.   

Smog from my window in China

The dark foreboding of cameras and guards that greet me at every step in my neighborhood.   

As the orange leaves and red rooftops of Trélex and dark leafy green peaks of surrounding Jura seek to make an impression, my subconscious remains assaulted by grey or pollution, metallic compounds, architecture and chemical-laden air.   

During this residency, I am working on a variety of projects.   

Drawing scenes of scenes at the window for further research on color

Reading books found in the book collection in my room, to understand the definition of sublime and subconscious, thematic concepts in my paintings.   

Editing video clips of daily morning window views from Beijing to supplement a series of oil paintings I have been working on in my home studio.  

Paintings in progress at Trelex  

Visiting art exhibits in Lausanne, Geneva, Basel and bordering Germany to gather inspiration. In Lausanne  Ai Wei Wei's exhibition on his observations of China; in Geneva and Basel fine art museums to study the exploration of sublime by classical and contemporary painters ranging from Titian to Barnett Newman; and in Germany the Vitra Design Campus to study the intersection of art and science. Inspired by this research, I painted a series of 6 oil canvases for my upcoming exhibit in Beijing, titled "To the Edge of Visibility"

Artist Zaha Hadid. Fire Station, Vitra DesignCampus, Germany. 1993

Engaging in vibrant, nurturing conversations with fellow artist and writer, Catriona to further self-assess for the purpose of our individual work.  I will cherish this experience at Trelex as a crucial turning point in my growth as an artist and thank Nina for her guidance and access to her lovely home.

From Lois P. Jones

14 - 29 Oct 2017

As I stood looking out the window of the residency in Trélex at the flaming leaves in early October, I knew after 17 years away from Switzerland, I too was changed.  Windows offer a palimpsest of perceptions allowing for both an interior and exterior view.  These worlds informed my time at Trélex.  From this vantage at the foot of the Jura mountains I became a part of the pane, leaving and taking away impressions and perhaps vestiges of my predecessor’s too. These thoughts melded easily with the locus of my writing project.  Just two hours east by train is the region of Valais and Château de Muzot, where the poet Rainer Maria Rilke spent the last years of his life from 1921 to 1926.    

My journey to Trélex was motivated in part by a pamphlet written by a close observer of his last years.  I wanted to see the home and walk the land which allowed him to pen his greatest works.  It was at Muzot that Rilke completed the Duino Elegies and the Sonnets to Orpheus as well as a flurry of French poems entitled  Les Fenêtres (The Windows).  

Kitchen window at Trélex, October 2017

The Windows - IV  

You, window, oh scale of waiting, 
refilled so often; when one life overflows impatiently 
towards another life.  

You who separate and attract, 
changing like the oceans—
sudden reflection, where our face
contemplates itself mingling
with what is seen on the other side;

fraction of a compromised freedom, 
by the presence of risk;
trapped by whatever's in us 
which evens the odds 
of the loaded outside.


The Windows - IV 

Fenêtre, toi, ô mesure d'attente, 
tant de fois remplie,
quand une vie se verse et s'impatiente
vers une autre vie. 

Toi qui sépares et qui attires,
changeant comme la mer,—
glace, soudain, où notre figure se mire
mêlée à ce qu'on voit à traves; 

échantillon d'une liberté compromise 
par la présence du sort; 
prise par laquelle parmi nous s'égalise 
le grand trop du dehors. 

            By Rainer Maria Rilke. Translation by A. Poulin.

Whatever one’s medium, many artists I encounter are familiar with Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet as was true for Nina, the founder of Trélex and Eva, a former resident who came by for a visit.  This collection of ten letters speaks to the heart of artistic struggle.  It’s not only a lyrical masterwork, it holds sound reasoning on how to stay the course.  Rilke guides his correspondent to trust his inner judgment, commenting that “Nobody can advise you and help you. Nobody. There is only one way—Go into yourself.”

Double rainbow from Trélex window of residency room.

My return to the land of Helvetians involved a heady mix of reflections including a homecoming to a land I’d lost.  Switzerland was “the one that got away.”   Yes, there was a man involved over the course of three years, but it was also the country I’d fallen in love with once I’d moved beyond the initial barriers of distance and language.  Even before I began writing, I longed for displacement and the chance to immerse in a completely foreign land with its challenges and victories.  I loved the delicious in media res moments of being alive and present in a new world.   Geneva and its grand architecture and the Vieille Ville (Geneva’s old town) an ancient maze of small streets, was a place I could plant myself for afternoons and feel the bells of the Cathedral St. Pierre ring through me.  It was a meditation to walk the museum-lit streets, devoid of cars and city noises and sit in Bourg-de-Four Square listening to the Swiss-French lilt of the locals as they chatted and drank vin rouge or cappuccino.  There were long walks by the Rhone and Lake Geneva and adventures navigating the pristine Swiss transportation systems.  It was an awakening to a sensory existence profound with history.  As someone who grew up in Chicago’s poor inner-city and later the noisy landscape of Los Angeles, coming to Geneva was like entering a Hugo novel.  Not exactly Paris but aspects of polite society and formidable architecture prevailed.  

Nearly two decades later the Swiss landscape was as safe and bucolic as ever. Once I’d settled in at Trélex, my first excursion was to hitch a ride with Nina to Vevey, a gorgeous lakeside town on the east side of Geneva.  Nina was happy to have a poet “in her pocket” on the long drive to her bookbinder and asked if I’d read a couple of poems from Night Ladder - my first poetry collection released this summer.  After sharing Picasso’s Garden and Foal, Nina spoke of the special acuity artists have which make them sensitive to everything around them.  Through conversations and my observation of her art I would come to learn how much Nina’s insights go beyond her work to the art world at large and the varying mediums. It is one thing to be in an ivory tower and another to let the world in – to challenge and appreciate the ever-changing biosphere of artists who move through Trélex and help them grow.    

Rilke’s intuitive and primal insights were astonishing and the compelling reasons many are drawn to his work.   These faculties began early as was evidenced in his ability to shift his point of view at will.  As a child, he frightened his mother one day when he shared his experience of looking through the eyes of a passing hound!  Oh she didn’t like that, and he would not rely on her confidence in future!    

And yet as Rilke’s long-time friend Rudolf Kassner posited, intuition is the highest rung of the imagination. It grasps the whole and the absolute, whereas perception, as a faculty of observation, takes into account only what is relative and partial.  Rilke’s art is an attestation to his instinctive nature.  When I lived in Geneva at the turn of the millennium I was unaware of Rilke and had only brief interactions with the subject of poetry. How could I know his words would become a central focus in my evolution as both a poet and a human being?  How could I imagine I would revisit a region so close to his heart.  To return to Switzerland was amongst other things, to enter a deeper relationship with Rilke and the home which would be his last.       

Rilke at Muzot.

I made two visits to Muzot from Trélex.  The first in mid-October was with Eva West.  Eva, a Swiss born resident now living in California met me at the residency and guided me through the journey to Sierre with great care.  We had corresponded some two years prior while she worked on a translation relating to my project. She’d visited the canton of Valais a year before to see her family and to lay down the tracks, orienting us both to Rilke’s world through photos and descriptions of the region.  At that time, I had no idea how I would get to Muzot or if I could ever afford the opportunity to stay nearby but things fell into place well in advance of my visit.  Miraculous how a small dot on the map within arm’s reach of Muzot made my dream conceivable. The Trélex Residency made it all possible.    

The train ride to the main city of Sierre with Eva was nothing less than stunning, with glances of the mysterious Chateau de Chillon on Lac Leman (Lake Geneva), another place I’d left memories – a meal of fresh bread and cheese on the jagged rocks with my then boyfriend who I’ll call “T,” complete with mist and the occasional swan. 

On the train to Sierre.

For our research, Eva had arranged a private tour at the Rilke Foundation with its gracious director, Bridgette Duvillard whose passion and knowledge for the great poet made me wish I’d an entire day instead of the hour we’d reserved.  I hinted at seeing Muzot, even going so far as to tease that I’d have to wait until I was dead so my ghost could haunt the estate.  There was much to see, and we spent the bulk of the afternoon touring the foundation and chatting with enthusiastic staff whose sole purpose is to promote the knowledge of Rilke’s works through exhibitions, lectures, conferences, publications and even a festival.  At the end we watched a gorgeous film which interspersed Rilke’s reflections on the chateau over startling images of Muzot and the Valais region. It was then we decided to make the trek to his home before the journey back to Trélex.  We traveled the short bus ride up the hill just as the sun began its descent.  By the time we reached the chateau the mountain behind Rilke’s home wore a saffron crown.  The sizeable vineyards which scaled the sloping road toward the property had turned a bright mustard color and the resulting effect was of fire.  It’s a time I will continue to revisit over the coming months as I slowly make my way through it all.      

Chateau Muzot

Just across the narrow road was the small St. Anne’s Chapel with its beautiful Black Madonna and pear trees Rilke frequented during his time at Muzot.  Eva and I ate the fallen fruit in silence, taking in the warmth of the sunset and the soft breeze shushing the leaves.  I spent long moments in the archway of its entrance.  Though St. Anne’s was closed, through the miracle of iPhone, I was able to be both inside and outside the chapel.   I did not feel cheated!  Today, the chapel holds a memorial service each year on December 29, the date of his passing.       

At St. Anne’s Chapel, Muzot, photo by Eva West.

Despite my disappointment at not entering Muzot, Eva and I returned to Trélex that evening with an incredible shared experience.  I arrived very late to Nyon due to a stalled train (nearly unheard of in Switzerland) and took the taxi home to Trélex as the last bus had gone - overtired, overjoyed.  

I had the fortune to spend the remainder of my time at Trélex with great friend, fellow poet and water colorist Lia Brooks who came from the south of England to share the experience and take part in her own journey.  For Lia it was a chance to discover a new country through her three-sided spyglass – the land, its architecture and its people.  More importantly Trélex was an opportunity for her to write without distraction unless one considers me a distraction which I sometimes am!  We were both elated at the chance to spend time together in the Swiss countryside.  Quiet but by no means inert, the land has its way of entering your blood.  I sometimes felt like a cat pulled in two directions – to look out from my desk across the great property and the outlying farms and fields or outside experiencing the land – its colossal skies and cool blue mountains.  I believe that’s one of the main reasons why writers need to mark out an ample period for their residency.  You will want to get familiar with the surrounding village, adventure to nearby Nyon or Geneva but you will crave time without plans.  You will need time to wind away from wherever you’ve come and let your mind settle on what is given to you at that moment.  Trélex is the ideal place to accomplish this.  There were long walks at various times of the day. Each time the sky offered its changing enigmas.     

Lia on the road to the café petrol.

A visit to Geneva was on the menu.  Geneva was not only the birth of my ex pat experience it was the nascence of my poetic discovery in 1999.  Other than a local scribe nicknamed “Poulette” (chicken) who busked his verse on the Geneva streets, my exposure had been as most – stodgy poets and stifling verse in uninspiring classes.  It wasn’t until a St. Valentine’s dinner at L’Opera Bouffe with T and his spontaneous translation of a poem by French surrealist poet, Paul Eluard that the experience came home.  The owner was a devotee of verse and in an inspired gesture created a poetic menu with entrées named for that night’s enjoyment.  Alongside each place setting were two poems – one from Paul Eluard and the other by Paul Valery.  It was at that moment, like Neruda, poetry arrived…/without a face,/and it touched me.  Though it would be a few more years before I would attempt to touch it back.  

Now, returning to my old neighborhood with Lia some 17 years later, I couldn’t remember exactly which stop to depart from until suddenly my old building was in sight!   We hopped off at Eaux-Vives and headed toward the apartment.  It was a thrill to see nothing had changed in so long – the old Bon Vin just below the flat was still touting the best fondue in town.  Reaching Rue Versonnex I no longer had the code to enter.  I could only stare through the glass into the long unchanged hall, wishing to gain entry and take the lift to the third floor of that gorgeous art nouveau building that took in the generous light and city bells. Would there still be the scent of Gruyere and the clank of bottles outside our bedroom window from the glass man?  Do the doves still flutter and coo in the inner courtyard below?    

Hall window at 19 Rue Versonnex.

Lia and I spent the day discovering and for me – rediscovering its secrets and joys, finishing the night with dinner at Les Armures and our newfound love – Gamay!  A delicious local wine and a perfect accompaniment to poetry.    

Picture of Lia and “E” (Lois) at Les Armures.

For most writers, experience plays a part in memory and invention.  After seventeen years my little French was rusty, but it proved helpful in vital situations like ordering chocolates from the chocolatier or getting even more lost in Nina’s borrowed car in search of the local supermarket!  Lia and I often reflected on how generous this opportunity was for artists, not only through the magnificent space of the Trélex residence but the openness with which Nina welcomes artists at all levels in their career.  Nina’s passion to have her residencies be a place where artists can feel free to create without having to run through a gauntlet of qualifying barriers opens the window to a diversity of artists who long for a nest to birth and nurture their ideas.  So do plan well since one can stay up to three months total.  A minimum of a month would be a good measure of time to settle in, discover, create.      

On the road to Raron.

A couple of days after our excursion to Genève, we took the long ride east again this time traveling past Muzot and into the Swiss-German region of Raron, first mentioned in 1100 as Rarun.  We were both surprised when our primitive French skills did not transfer to this new Swiss-German terrain.  It was a pleasure to sense we had moved into another region of cultural discovery. Rilke chose one of the most beautiful vistas on earth to be buried.  He loved the small village and the surrounding area where he could hike along the Rhone.      

The village winds up a steep path toward the church and his place of burial.  I wasn’t sure with my bad ankle if I could make it and had even checked in advance in case I needed a lift.  There was one local taxi driver who would need to call the church for permission to drive up the pedestrian-only road but when I arrived I started the trek and made that pilgrimage one step at a time.    

On the path to Raron.

There is much to note of the experience, but I’ll leave that for poetry…  Some things are still too raw, too intimate to share.   

On the way back to Trélex, Lia and I returned to Muzot.  I found I’d missed much on the first go as I was emotionally overwhelmed.  The second run was a gift in terms of research and inspiration.   It was also a time to be thankful. After an extraordinary few years of challenges we’d promised one another to mark our victory with a photo face down in the land.  And so we did.    

Château de Muzot, Lia and Lois (“E”), October 2017

The Trélex residency turned out to be the perfect place to anchor my visit to both Geneva and the Valais region where Rilke lived and died.  Both were in reasonable distance after all, a two-hour ride in Los Angeles is like a trip up to your neighbors in Santa Barbara.  It may seem far for a local but nothing for someone who flew 6,000 miles to spend a little time with a dead poet.       

A Trélex morning.

After my return from Muzot and Raron I was so saturated with emotion I couldn’t take another event in.  I was grateful to return to Trélex and spend time full tilt – headphones on, windows open and fingers to the keypad.  I shed words and an unexpected number of tears.  This was pure joy at having not only “met” my patron saint but at the Eureka opening to my project.  It happened then as I wrote furiously, relieved I had finally found the best way in.

Part of this watershed involved barriers to places I had desperately wished to gain entry.  It all came down to my conversation after seeing an older woman sweeping the steps at Muzot as we walked past Rilke’s house.  Was this the madame whose ancestors bought Muzot for Rilke in 1921 and still owns it to this day?  In those frozen moments I could not recall her surname!  Madame Reinhart! Madame Reinhart! my mind called out but by then, the door to Muzot had been closed.  

Later, I wrote the great granddaughter of a close friend of Rilke’s and told her of my anguish.  She sagely replied – you were inside the house.  The woman who saw you took you indoors and you wandered through every room.  I realized once more that physical access was only one way to perceive.  My wise correspondent had led me back to my original reflection and the idea that our presence leaves an imprint just as Rilke’s presence and work left his imprint at Muzot and in the hearts and minds of so many.  

I thought of all the artists who’d looked out these same windows - the reflections of our every season, our every hour.  

                                    for Nina  

                       I want windows to tell me their secrets 
                                   so I don’t have to see everything  

                       I want to know what winter gave when it settled in,  
                       a goose for nesting, 
                                   a white nuthatch 
                                   on the bare cedar.   

                                   How many  
                       have flashed by – starlings around the steeple 
                                   or swooped like the barn owl   

                                   with wings only the dead can hear.  

                       Who did the window watch all day in the pine grove   
                                   until the cows were cutouts    
                                               and the night went black with crows.  

                       Which one bent their head down and into the frame 
                                   chose stubble fields      for a lost father.   

                       How a photographer could strip the land   

                                   of everything  
                                   but the leaving.  

                       Which throat ate the flame anyway  
                                   drank wine until the bottles chattered 
                                   their glass teeth.  

                                   Or the hands that knit the orange web 
                                   then strung it from tree to tree 
                                   spending yarn on a cool wind.  

                       Who composed the song of the pear then hung it  
                       from your note tree 
                                   to flutter           at the slightest breath.   

                       And when the wind flung the shutters open   

                                   who cried with joy 
                                   hearing the cows  

                       and their chorus of wind chimes  
                                   ringing, ringing, the night.      



Rilke’s sketch of Muzot, 1921.