Last week I stayed with my friends at the Hôtel de France in Sainte-Croix.
Here is a sketch I made of the hotel from across the road, sitting on a wall by the lay-by. It was really cold, 4 degrees C. One and a half hours, drawn and coloured on location.
A woman parks her car in my line of sight and blocks the view. She is one of a succession of people who parks their car in my line of sight and blocks the view. They all do so unapologetically. I might be just air, sitting there with my sketchbook.
They are collecting items from the hardware shop, which is called “Jaccard”. They all return quite quickly and drive off. So I have become used to the rhythm, and it no longer bothers me. I draw the chimneys, over the top of the car, and the distant mountain, which is called Covatannaz.
This particular woman, on returning to her car, called out “Hélène!”. Her car was empty. I assumed she was calling to someone round the corner. “Hélène,” she said again. I realised she was talking to me. None of my names is Hélène, although I quite like the name. I ran through the options in my head. Was “Hélène” a kind of French form of “Fore!”, which golfers shout? Was this a warning of some kind? No. She and I were looking at each other, she with an open face of greeting, me no doubt with a puzzled frown, which after a little while influenced her open greeting, and she frowned too.
“Bonjour!” I said brightly, hoping to lighten the mood.
“Ah,” she said, and her expression altered again. Perhaps my voice was wrong. Even with one word, my English accent must have been apparent. “Excusez-moi,” she continued, “Je vous avez prise pour Hélène Jumeaux*.” She continued to look at me as though I might change my mind and confess to being Hélène Jumeaux, despite the accent. When I didn’t, she hid her confusion by examining my picture, which she genuinely seemed to like, and she complimented me.
Prosopagnosia, face blindness, affects maybe 1 in 50 people, according to “faceblind.org“. It is an inability to recognise faces, not an inability to remember names. That is also a problem, but a different one. I know this, because, as I’ve got older, face blindness has become more and more of a problem for me. I felt sympathy for the woman. Neither my limited mastery of French, nor the situation, enabled me to express this connection. But we managed. We smiled, and talked about the picture.
Forgive me if I pass you on the street without recognising you, even if we’ve seen each other only a few hours before. Please say hello. And say your name. As I’ve got older I’ve realised that many mental and physical defects, such as deafness, visual impairment, prosopagnosia, encroaching memory loss, can all be interpreted, by people who are young and fully functional, as rudeness. It’s made me more forgiving of other people’s weaknesses, other people’s apparent rudeness.
Here is the line drawing, the same picture as above, before the colour went on.
Here are a couple more drawings from the same trip, and a photo of this drawing on location, just after I finished it.
I have made pictures at the Hôtel de France before:
Sainte-Croix, Vaud, Switzerland
View from a Swiss Hotel
Some sketches of hotel tableware
Here is a gallery of archive sketches from Vaud and Sainte-Croix.
Breakfast: Ovomaltine container and cup, done with watercolour sticks.
Flags on the outside of the hotel.
Work in progress on the drawing of the Hôtel de France
Window in the house opposite the train station
Absinthe in the Hotel de France
View from the breakfast room – a postcard, photographed after it’s been through the post.
People waiting at Geneva airport
*names in this story have been changed