Summer arrives in France with music in the streets. In 2000, before we moved to France, I spent a summer living with Emily in a rented apartment in the heart of St-Germain-des-Prés and it was there that I first experienced the Fête de la Musique. Begun in 1982 in Paris, it has spread throughout Europe. It is essentially an all night party to celebrate the summer solstice. On almost every street corner musicians of many styles and ethnicities play and sing. Huge crowds gather, mingle, and then move on to the next free venue. No one sleeps! The musicians, most professional, are all unpaid. It is a lively and exciting affair and happens throughout France in the bigger cities.
In our village last year Alain organized a mini version. He is the neighbor who can be seen around town walking on a rhinestone leash either his Chevalier King Charles dog named Barnaby or his pygmy goat named Bernaby. Alain dragged his recorded music collection, huge speakers and disco ball outside Annette's and blasted the village with oompa and accordion music. I don't think he had too many takers. This year, since the 21st was on a Monday, we didn't have the pleasure of his deejay skills. It was silent in Montmirail.
A few weeks ago I received a call from a professional photographer named Georges, who lives in Paris and works all over the world for various NGOs. He owns a weekend home outside the village and one day discovered our atelier by chance. He was quite amazed, apparently, to discover that there were photogravure (photo-etching) facilities right here in this tiny hamlet. He was also overjoyed, since photogravure is his hobby and his printer in Paris had just retired. He rang to ask if he could occasionally rent our studio to print his own plates, which are made by Fanny Boucher the only active héliograveur in France. This is a technique ancient and very precise. A photographic image is developed on a copper plate using a photosensitive emulsion. Fanny works with some of the most famous photographers in the world. Her incredible atelier, which we visited a few years ago, is filled with photographic equipment from the early part of the last century, huge sinks, drying racks and dust free rooms, kept clean as a whistle. She works like a scientist.
This was the week that Georges came with his plates to make some prints. We had a lot of fun working with him as he experimented with different papers, inks and border designs, that he had drawn onto the paper before printing. He also works a lot with chine collé, gluing decorative papers on the basic printing paper to either create a border around the image, or a decorative surface to print upon. He made print after print and viewed each result with the eyes of a perfectionist, making minute corrections. He had only two images, one of a beautiful young African woman and the other of a Indian girl. He entertained us with stories of tramping through the jungles of Africa and coming upon tribes of natives who had not been exposed to white men before. He brings his old Polaroid camera with him and takes instant photos which he gives to his subjects. (His refrigerator is filled with boxes of polaroid film that he bought from New York when it was announced several years ago that this venerable old technology was going to disappear.) The photographic images are, obviously, quite magical to most of the people he photographs, as they have never experienced it before. He typically gives the photo to his subject and keeps the negative, which is what he uses to create his own images.
Of course I find it inspiring to watch other artists at work. We exchanged techniques, shared supplies and in general had a wonderful time. Tomorrow Georges comes back again, this time with his 11 year old daughter Leyla, who will be taking an etching course from me while her father continues his experimentation. Out of the scores of images he will make in the end, he tells me that he will save only five and throw the rest away.
One of the big events in town this week was that the house across from us, owned by Jean-François and Marc had its final coat of enduit put on. There is no English translation for this word, since it means simply "coating" but is a much more specific technique which is not often employed in the United States. Basically lime and sand and water are mixed together and slathered on the outside of a stone building to give a wonderfully rich and colored facing. It's like frosting. The resultant color is entirely dependent upon the kind of sand used and an endless variation of cake-like tones is possible depending upon the source of the sand. Jean-François and Marc have come from their home in Belême (an hour and a quarter round trip) no less than ten times to verify the final color of the house (which is empty but soon to go on the market). They have never been satisfied until this week. The workmen have been trying every sand pit in the locale and were finally able to create the color which approximated what "the boys" (as we call them) had in their minds. This has delayed the project by several weeks, but to excellent effect. The scaffolding has finally been removed and the view out our window now, (once upon a bland dirty tan building with faux cinder blocks painted on the bottom half, as if the real ones aren't ugly enough!) has become apricot. Mme Geudet, the baker's wife and arbiter of all things in the village declared that she was pleased, but did note that it was regrettable that the nurse didn't use the opportunity to resurface her exterior as well. That would have, after all, improved Mme Geudet's view as well.
The village is going through a certain amount of publically funded improvements. The stone stairs have all been rebuilt, and Celine, the hairdresser, had her building resurfaced a few months ago. The color there turned out a much darker ochre yellow; less pleasing to the local population. In my opinion, however, all these natural colors are beautiful and they weather and mellow with age. I love the variation. The boulangerie, visible from our window just behind the new apricot is a light lemon yellow. They look very good together.
Mid-week, we found ourselves with a two-day hole in our calendar, so we took a trip to Paris to see the grandson and stock up on a few specialty art supplies and exotic food items. I also had a sudden desire (it comes over me so seldom) to do some creative cooking. It's particularly enjoyable to do that with Emily. She and I were both long-time Gourmet Magazine loyalists and thus devastated when they suddenly halted publication earlier in the year. Our remaining subscriptions were finished out with issues of Bon Appetite, which frankly both of us consider a much inferior substitute. The "Last Word" in Gourmet gave recipes for various sauces, butters, condiments or vinegars. A keeper every month! In Bon Appetite you get a recipe from a movie star on the last page. Can I care what some famous person rustles up when it's the cook's night off? I do have to admit, however, that the section where readers write in for recipes from their favorite restaurants has resulted in a few extraordinary discoveries. For our guests I routinely follow one recipe I got in my first replacement issue – mushroom cakes served on a bed of avocado gaspacho with a red pepper coulis on top. Makes me hungry just writing about it! This month I found a recipe for chili rellenos stuffed with goat cheese and mushrooms, not to mention one for a cocktail with gin, lemon and grapefruit juices, jasmine tea and limoncello. I imagined a cooking party with Emily, who is quite an excellent and dedicated chef. To make these kinds of recipes one does have to be in the big city, as they contain ingredients impossible to locate at our local markets. In Emily's neighborhood one can find some fabulous ethnic food stores, especially Japanese, Turkish, Israeli and Indian. Regrettably there isn't much in the way of Mexican food or supplies available in France, even in Paris, so we were reduced to visiting Istanbul Market down the road from Emily's to find some anaheim chili substitutes. They worked very well indeed. We had an extended cooking extravaganza and a late but very satisfying dinner together. The second night we ordered take-out.
The results of Bobo making the mistake of leaving his toast unguarded
We spent a day in Paris center going to my favorite art supply stores. Relma, very close to the Place St. Michel is located in an old Parisian store front. It sells specialty items for book binders. There you find several hundred choices of marbleized papers, leather in every grade and color, wooden book presses in various sizes and beautiful tools for hand binding and stamping. I bought a scalpel there several years ago, it cuts so much more precisely than an xacto knife, and I was finally able to restock my blades. It's not possible to buy them at a pharmacy. I now have a lifetime supply. We walked from there up the quai to Sennelier where they sell more ordinary art supplies, but which offers the art tool addict just as sensual an experience. One enters the old shop by way of a glass door which faces the Tuileries Gardens across the Seine. Inks, pastels, tubes of paints and brushes of every size and shape line the walls from floor to ceiling. Negotiating your way through narrow aisles, jostling with other customers trying to make their own way is a delightful experience. The choices are boggling. After my modest shopping spree was over Rick noted that I seem to find art stores particularly nurturing. It's true. It was a great day. We rounded it off with tapas at a Spanish restaurant near the Jardin de Luxembourg and a visit to a gallery in Montparnasse where they currently have a Chas Laborde exhibition. We walked the whole route. One of my favorite things to do in Paris, is just walk.
Jos and Emily's cherry tree is laden with fruit this year. They cover the ground under the tree and all the neighbors come help themselves. If Quinn is hungry he simply patters outside and picks one up from the ground. He takes a bite and then hands it to you. You remove the pit while he patiently waits, and then you give it back to him to finish.
a good year for cherries
Monique invited us for a Sunday barbecue as the weather has been really heavenly this week and it was a perfect day to sit outside in her secret little terrace garden. Monique lives in a charming house a few steps away. She mans the front desk at the local sawmill, which is owned by her son. She also has two children living on Reunion, so she travels quite frequently. It is extremely pleasant in her lush walled garden. Jonathan and Renata were in town as well as Christine, so the six of us sat at Monique's beautifully-laid table and feasted on five sorts of entrées, a huge platter of four kinds of barbecued meat, potatoes and beets from Jonathan's garden and finally two desserts. Such a meal is a three to four hour affair with lots of lively conversation all around and several bottles of wine. It was a delicious note to end the week on.
This week brought people from Belgium, Canada, Germany, Israel, Spain, France and exotically, Ukraine. Who would have guessed that all the world would pass right through the center of Montmirail?
from the garden