The Paris Salon, 2014

This weekend, there are four art salons taking place in Paris, not to mention the wonderful Salon des Vins Independents (six euros buys you a glass and all the wine you can drink. I’m serious). Time to put on some comfortable shoes and join the art cognoscenti. Here is a chance to see what’s happening in contemporary art as well as view works on paper by Grand Masters. What a joy, since graphic works are very under-represented in museums in the mistaken view that works in oil and acrylic are more worthy. Also, in going to the art salon, we can  experience what was a mainstay of nineteenth century Parision life, and the central moment in the visual arts year of the period.

IMG_1301

On Thursday, we went to the Place de la Bourse, for the Salon du Dessin, 2014. Housed in the former Paris Stock Exchange, a grand old building,  it features rows of booths rented by galleries from throughout Europe.

 

IMG_1212   IMG_1216

 

IMG_1213

Get ready for beauty.

IMG_1231IMG_1232IMG_1221    I particularly enjoyed the mix of periods.

IMG_1219IMG_1218IMG_1233IMG_1220IMG_1234

 

IMG_1240IMG_1239

Today, while Alan went to spend the morning tasting and buying wines, I was off to the Paris Art Fair at the Grand Palais. This eye-popping venue is an exhibition hall built for the International Exposition of 1900. Designed to assert French grandeur and pre-eminence amongst nations, it is a vast space with a glass ceiling. Flooded with light, it is great for viewing art and anything else, I imagine. Here are some works that inspired me.

I always love dripping. IMG_1262

This work and the trio of works in the next image, by an artist named Monique Frydman, inspire me with their vivid colours. The artist has rubbed pigments directly onto the canvas using a medium  to make them sink in. Can’t wait to try this.

IMG_1270

IMG_1272

These sculptures are quite large, and appear to be made of metal, but on inspection they are paper!

IMG_1252

IMG_1290IMG_1289 This artist rolls Japanese paper into flower-like shapes and arranges them in plexiglass boxes. I love this idea. but I don’t want you to think that I liked everything.

IMG_1255 I guess every Salon needs something outrageous. But, really.

IMG_1256There were quite a few pieces in this genre. Large photographs of staged scenes in Technicolour. Here, “Jesus” visits Greenwich Village. Okay.

But don’t think I can’t take anything experimental. Here, water drips from two intravenous bags that hang from the ceiling (not in the picture) into two Chinese porcelain bowls filled to brimming with black ink. The ink spills over and a stain spreads on paper. As it spreads, Chinese calligraphy is revealed.

IMG_1269IMG_1268

IMG_1250I also enjoyed these guys that are made from fabric and mud and I don’t know what else. I’m going to try this, too.

Are you surprised that there was nothing of mine in this years’ salons?  Maybe next year.

 

 

 

The State of Art

01f51b3f3c23423507b0c249a8c700a2180bb3e13dWhen you’re in love, you want to tell the world.

When he said this, Carl Sagan was explaining why his life has been devoted to explaining the cosmos, but it also sums up why I am blogging. Being here in Paris is so stimulating I am  bursting: with ideas, with feelings (not to mention with cheese, but that’s another post). Part of this is the inexhaustible feast of visual arts that Paris offers. If you are an art lover in Canada,  there is simply not that much out there to see, although we faithfully support our museums, check out temporary exhibitions in Ottawa, and consider bussing to Toronto if something is worthwhile. But  while in Canada we will largely content ourselves with nature and go to New York for art.

If you have been to Paris, you have probably been to the larger museums: the Louvre, the Pompidou and the Orsay. Although not strictly a  Fine Art museum, The Musee de l’Armee at the Hotel des Invalides is also large. Most people who go there limit their visit to Napoleon’s tomb, which is a shame because it is the least interesting item on display. Housed in a Louis XIV era hospital of stunning architectural beauty (OK, the golden dome may be in bad taste, but I think Napoleon III was responsible for that), the museum has so much to offer it’s hard to know where to begin. The many galleries of armour, all nations, all eras, highly decorated, often beautiful, reveal the making of armour to be an art form. Housed in their glass cases,  these helmets, breast plates and swords appear as interesting sculptures. I was especially drawn to the suits of armour crafted for Louis XIII as a child.IMG_0565

 

In another area, the histories of World War I and II unfold, told through film and through  displays of objects as diverse and interesting as a Paris taxicab ( the battle of the Marne, in which cabs joined the last-minute efforts to get French soldiers to the front), the first tanks, a Nazi flag, a yellow star, and gallery after gallery of uniforms, some familiar, many quite exotic. Uniforms are the signature object of this museum and in the Napoleon galleries their fabrics, embroideries and insignias are quite gorgeous and memorable.

IMG_0570IMG_0569

IMG_0568

It’s all state-sponsored propaganda, of course. And in Paris the connections between art, architecture and particular regimes  are evident everywhere and need not be explained. Those in power -the Church, the Bourbons, the Napoleons – require artists and artisans to reflect and support their “glory”. In return the artists get to do art and live. Those in power pass away, the art lives on.

Drawing France

I am always happy to see other artists out there working. I often try to slip behind them and see what they’re up to. The “copyists” at the Louvre are joining a grand tradition, as  just about every French artist you can think of cut his teeth viewing, sketching and painting at the Louvre. The painters you see working at the Louvre today are members of an elite club. I asked at the Information Desk how to get permission to paint at the Louvre  and was handed a thick package detailing the policies, rules, and  regulations of copying. It also contained a number of forms to be completed by the applicant. The whole onerous process culminates in the necessity of getting a letter of introduction from your country’s ambassador if you are not a French national.

012351e3f60adfd51d9591e8497bb1d93c2d783e96   0125344be0d1f25386515fc5965a963da21862b009

They’re impressive, no?                      01144f0aafffa302d9f813fcb41d09a8df3ca87319

But artists willing to work on a smaller scale are also seen everywhere at the museum.

0185041d928dda6f06641e62e606fb4e0e82fdd9ddLook at how intense  this young artist is. He is working on  a Greek stone head of a horse.

016979d528d2265da8df8c7fd1655d158c06cb179c

0128f4c829626579beede5e7fe49dac2e11e140641_0000101307e9068ff2a1527b1d2cb94d734159ef7d9f46c

Formal, or informal, young or old, together or alone, drawing what they are seeing gives them a focus that nothing else can.

01568d3c5d0e40f20a93a0559fefa9cd1feff4bb84   I fell in love with this little boy, a serious photographer documenting the extinct great Scottish moose.

Weird French Food IV

IMG_0990

No, I didn’t. There are lengths to which I will not go, even to amuse you, dear reader, and eating this trio of lamb heads on offer at Marche d”Aligre is one of them. It was interesting to me that they stuffed the mouths with something – kind of like the apple in the roasted pig’s mouth but I can’t tell what and I hesitated to go in closer for a look. Obviously, I do not have what it takes to be an investigative reporter.

Instead, we opted for seafood. This week in the closet, uh I mean kitchen, I have a comely assistant.

IMG_1020

This is my daughter Charlotte, here on Spring Break. (See my post “Mother and Child Reunion” to understand how really happy I am at this moment.) She is saying, “Mom, do we have to have to eat the eyeballs?”

These lovely big shrimp are called Gambas. There are even bigger ones but you know me, I’m cheap when it comes to marketing.  The great cuisines of the world are all ones in which necessity was the mother of flavour. Think: French boeuf bourguignon, pot-au-feu, confit de canard. It’s all farmhouse cooking, cheaper cuts and  methods for making them delicious. Same with Italian food, where all the recipes were developed by someone’s grandmother and are based on rice. pasta, abundant vegetables, and a very little  bit of meat, ground or pounded into submission. Chinese food, too, doesn’t begin with the idea, “What are the most expensive ingredients around? Let’s cook them.”  I say, “Let’s get creative and save money. Then, we’ll spend that money on wine!” I’m sure the lamb heads were cheap, but as I said, I do have limits.

IMG_1024

Here are the Gambas in the skillet. I started by sauteeing leeks and mushrooms. I set them aside and sauteed the shrimp (rinsed and dried) separately. I use olive oil in the skillet. Once the shrimp were pink on both sides, I put the mushrooms and leeks back in. Then I added some white wine – a nice light Sancerre. Five minutes later, voila. I don’t peel the shrimp before bringing them to the table. Maybe I would if Queen Elizabeth were coming for dinner but she has not turned up as yet. Eating this kind of food is a dig-in-with-your-fingers sort of event. So we peel, we eat, we mop with bread and wash down with the Sancerre. And we do not eat the eyeballs.

IMG_1026

Next on Weird Food, something I need to show you, for a giggle, but have held back because it’s not food and it’s more like weird advertizing. But what the heck. You know Orangina. It’s kinda weird – an orange flavoured fizzy drink. Better than Orange Crush, but the sort of thing you would only drink if desperately thirsty and trapped in an airport due to flight delay and the only other option is a  tepid, rusty water fountain. Anyway, they have it here, and the advertising campaign features sexy cartoon animals. You heard it. Cartoon  deer and giraffes that are shaped like pin-up girls and posing in a come-hither way.

IMG_0690  IMG_0689

I hope you can decipher these images, which were on a cafe window, hence the interesting but disruptive reflections. It’s at times like this that I feel I am in an utterly foreign society. Isn’t there something weird and vaguely disturbing about making cartoon animals that are provocative? And obviously Mr. Orangina (or MS.?) thinks that these images are totally appealing and will sell his product. These critters have been around for some time – at least for the five years that I have come to really know Paris -so they must be working.

Regulating Life in France

I think I’m on to something about the French when it comes to this whole notion of correctness and the rules.  Yesterday’s post was about the misunderstandings that arise from the way the French follow codes of behaviour understood by them, but not necessarily everyone else.

Medication for jetlag

In France there are rules, regulations and standards galore. This sounds oppressive, and maybe it is. But it may also be what makes the culture so great. Let’s take our daily bread as a humble example. The downstairs baker, like the local cheese vendor, has been recognized as “Meilleur Ouvrier en France”. He makes a damned fine baguette in his boulangerie-artisanal, a type of operation that is completely controlled in terms of its recipes, ingredients, and products. This government regulation is fairly recent – a decade or so old – and came about when the classic approaches were giving way to frozen breads, concocted off-site. Rather than see their treasured baguette globalized and out-sourced, the authorities stepped in and a great  tradition continues.

Paris, this most beautiful of cities is nothing if not standardized. We all know the look.

014034ff506cdedbce056b265a23b1801dbf8e70a40113970bc6c6ad12c7036f89aaff6e85065f0258c401ac34f7e082086dd09763e01b6a7238bb2ead8df8_00001 Here are some examples of what I see from my desk –  the beige-coloured stones, the wrought iron work, rows of French windows –  the vocabulary of Paris buildings for hundreds of years. It’s all standardized, down to the colour of your front door. I recognize the Paris I am living in when I look at 19th century paintings of the city.

paris_paintings_winter_france__1280x800_artwallpaperhi.com Pissaro, Winter Morning, 1897caillebotte-paris-rainy Caillebotte, Rainy Day, 1877.

All we need do is change the clothes and switch out the coaches for cars and these paintings would be accurate depictions of Paris streets in 2014.

It is not a coincidence that nothing in central Paris has changed and that nothing is ugly. Nothing is permitted to be ugly. Even the gas pumps are banished underground, because a filling station is just too ugly a thing for citizens to look at. Even the glass of wine I am sipping is the result of a vintner following the rules of the appellation to the letter. The French are very, very good at creating beauty, creating deliciousness, and then they insist upon it. They believe there is a correct way to do things and once they arrive at that correct way, that is it.

I could go on. In French high school, my daughter was taught the one permissable way to take notes: subject title written in blue ink, underlined twice in red ink, subtitle, underlined once in red, notes follow,dictated by teacher. In the arts, the Salon system had the creation and marketing of fine art locked up tight in a control that began with the artist’s enrollment in the Institut de Beaux Arts, a rigid and formulaic program in which the artist copied works endlessly before being allowed any self-expression at all. He (women were not accepted) must then compete for prizes, and win them, if he were to have a great future. The painter David despaired of winning the Prix de Rome and wanted to kill himself after his third failed attempt (he won on the fourth). Then, throughout his career,  the artist must submit his works to a jury for selection in the great art show, the Paris Salon. There were no independent art dealers until the very end of the century, and tellingly, that started first in London

It all seems so exhausting, doesn’t it? Not to mention repressive. Is France a sort of OCD nation, obsessively and compulsively creating and enforcing elaborate, and neurotic,  rules? Yes (see evidence above), and also No,  because France is also very good at Revolution and when they shrug off their bonds and go crazy in the name of liberty they do it with a vengeance. Consider these Heads of Kings, ripped off the facade of Notre Dame because rioting citizens could no longer bear the thought of authority.

01ba1ff4ed2dbf8036e416a2d9e60f16ed400b718f01d7ef710a5872bb850c390653f703f47846148d98 Musee de Cluny, Paris.

I’m glad that the French have rules that are creating such a great quality of life for me and my husband in our Paris home. But in a way, I feel bad for the French, having to be under such pressure all the time. Do you know what I mean?

 

 

 

“But are the French… Nice?”

I’ve been giving this question, asked by the bank teller back in Montreal, a lot of thought.  It has long puzzled me that people everywhere find the French, especially the Parisians, rude. Sure, I had experienced hauteur on the part of waiters, but saw it only as that, a kind of game you play in which you have only to be more haut  than them and you win. Apart from waiters, I have experienced much kindness and decency here: the hotel clerk who ran after me with a complementary umbrella because it might rain, the flea market vendor who gave my daughter a vintage handbag  she liked very  much because there was wear on the inside, the food vendors yesterday who gave us avocados for free because they couldn’t guarantee their freshness. That’s nice, no argument.

images

(Umbrella image thanks to http://www.artistgifts.com)

But here’s my point – it’s also correct. And the French would almost always rather be correct than nice. We Canadians are the opposite. And what I find truly interesting is that this difference -the source of so much misunderstanding – also resembles the two classic positions in moral philosophy. As a former ethics teacher, I see  Canadian “niceness” as honouring an Aristotelian, ethics of care, value system in which your motivations and intentions, the spirit in which you do things is all-important.You tried your best, you were nice; if things weren’t perfect it’s OK because you are working on improving.  The French are more in a  Kantian vein, they want to determine the rules of correctness and carry them out scrupulously. The French waiter has a job to do, he knows the rules and he will obey them. For the French, this is what makes him a good waiter, not his attitude toward you, the customer.  The rules include acting with appropriate respect, and  not with inappropriate friendliness. Your job is to obey the rules of customer behaviour, which include respecting the waiter, the norms of French dining, ordering your meal with care and enjoying it when it is well-prepared and served. When both parties follow these rules, the mini-society within the restaurant gets along swimmingly.

01f1c1c0929f4fb3bdaad452c84fcaee70064d0016

It’s usually the case that when the French get annoyed, and act with rudeness, it’s because you are not understanding the rules, what is called for on your part. For example, people will be ticked off if you don’t greet them. The rule, when you want to speak to someone, is to first greet them and this goes for bus drivers, sales associates, or people on the street you wish to ask for directions. Greet them, “Bonjour Madame/Monsieur.” You can even go on  to ask if you can ask a question. This level of deference always wins points. The last time I did this, the metro guard I wanted to get directions from  escorted me all the way to the correct platform. Now THAT was nice.

Art is Everywhere

014886c98c3442ec5e1f25a5137fd526cf359dcf7e

 

On my way to the Louvre yesterday, I saw this stunning work of modern abstract art. It reminds me of something second generation  abstract expressionist. Like Pierre Soulages. Big and gestural. My incompetent cropping probably gave it away, long ago.

016050d1491ce47316edeffc6f704eba9f906ec81e Yes, they’re changing the advertizing at our metro stop. I still think it’s fabulous. The more I look at it, the more I like it. The limited colour palette, The strong black forms that radiate out from the centre. The green slashes that create a strong diagonal from the bottom left. The five bright yellow ovals of metro seating also contribute to  the effect of the whole. Did the workman – who I saw on my way into the station, rolling up his torn paper and stuffing it into a garbage bag – did he see what he had done? Does he know how visually pleasing it is? Does it matter if it has no meaning to him, as long as it does to me, or someone?

I continued on my journey, and on the way out of the Metro, saw this pleasing thing. Much like a Jean Cocteau.

013082c71c4745b2b6b3042a1bd6b4d0aaba55d1ad An arabesque of lines on the wall. A kiss. Sweet! What is that written there – grogue? Drogue?

I wanted to visit the European Painting wing in the Richelieu Pavillion. You go straight up two long banks of elevators and you enter galleries where there is much inspiration but moins de monde, particularly once you get to the paintings of Netherlands/Holland. Here are some things I particularly liked:01472e9f906c0206b01ed03cb4da9f00cf65858c5d I’m just discovering this French painter from the Baroque period. I particularly liked a roomful of works by him,  Simon Vouet, who was painting in Paris in the first half of the 17th century. His clear, bright colours and particularly his use of gold and pink stood out. Here’s a closeup of that gold foulard.

01646df6b4c654037b79584f9ba5f9de62166e59b6 Beautiful. This is the sort of work that

those clustered around the Mona Lisa miss out on. Vouet’s Saint Guillaume of Aquitaine is very compelling and very much deserves the attention lavished on works that  folks have been told they should appreciate.

019a806eb2d44df53fca2804a71949edc4e0562377 Anthonis Mor van Dashort. Who has  heard of him? And yet, here is the work of  a master. It is entitled Portriat of a Widow of Forty Years and a Child. Here is a close up:01d7ce6ac9812b13ee33ddfd999fc28617814e6914 She is a widow. No longer beautiful, she has the tired look of middle age.  There is a thin shell of reserve that covers her grief like a carapace. She encounters our gaze without wishing to know us. Her gently resting hand tells us that her daughter is her one joy.

016c77da6d4826d4a8bc510bbd0f6e1697f431accb So deftly rendered, the daughter resembles the mother, except that she has the freshness of childhood. Everything about her is touching: her ear , the fold of her eye, the little details of her cap and collar. It is so beautiful that the artist has given the rosiness of her cheek to the lower portion of her face, at mouth level, as we sometimes see on childish faces, particularly in Winter.

This next work is really killer. We should go out and shout from the rooftops about this work, it is so masterly.            01db141bef3f77c55f0bb4f0db1a84117a4d59fd65

Dwarf of Cardinal Gravel Holding a Large Dog by Antonis Mor Van Dashort, 1575.

He’s a dwarf, one who, like many others at this time, has been picked up to add fun and interest to a court, in this case that of a French Cardinal. The subject seems to say, “Hey, here are a couple of the cardinal’s pets. Check it out: the dog’s as big as the man! lol.” But look more closely at the man.

01c4aca675cd651b83125c8c20310e2eabde968631 What dignity he has. He meets our gaze with a direct seriousness that insists on his humanity, that shows his resentment, that dares us to laugh. And we do not want to.

And the dog. This may be the most beautiful dog in Western art.016bf7ee3851880ed79cd50b68203f1f80254c16a1

The old master painters can create a hyper-real effect that is not dead-looking like the super-real portraits of today. Is it because they weren’t painting from photographs?

Let’s resolve to look with fresh eyes (finding art that is unintentional, like the ripped subway poster, for example). Let’s discover those forgotten masterworks, not letting received wisdom or convention be our guide in what we should consider best in art. Do you know of any forgotten masterworks out there? Share!

After my morning in the galleries, I went outside to picnic in the Tuilleries. There I saw a Jackson Pollock.

014ccf692c9cf853f76a5df87cfc1030e54c4eceb4

Weird French Food III

Followers of Weird Food Wednesdays know that I am pledged to seek out the weird and wonderful in French food and try to cook it. This inevitably leads to adventures, if only for the taste buds. This week, I tried cooking this. Points if you can guess what it is: animal or vegetable?

01f16f64d3db3f459278738eeee5cd6649ce8035c1

I got these critters, which are vegetable despite their name: pied de mouton (hedgehog mushroom in English). I was hoping when I looked them up, that they would be that other weird mushroom item, oreilles de judas. But don’t worry, I will stay on the look out for these, too. Here is what they look like in scale with other, more familiar items.

01b4d8ffd67256396202c7240ea15e02601dbac54c

I got them here, the cheapest, most crowded, and certainly noisiest of the food markets in Paris, the Marche Alligre. Here, vendors, many of whom are from Arabic countries, noisily hawk their wares: “Un euro, un euro, les 3 avocats, un euro”. It is as chaotic for the eye  and for the ear. Hang onto your purse, and your partner!

       019a27e15481acb840db51daf1b2de2ec30c3a5df801ab4ccbbaf39f84b4c792cf133e4f609e0023f813

 A mountain of mushrooms

I sauteed them with leeks until brown. I tried not to crowd the skillet. Took five minutes. I removed them and sauteed up blanc de dinde, turkey breast, which is super inexpensive here. Five minutes per side. Then I added back in the mushrooms and leeks and half a cup of water – only because I had no white wine around. I stirred in creme fraiche at the end, added herbes de provence and, done! It was fantastic. As for the pied de moutons, they were good, tasting quite a bit like chanterelles, except with a meatier texture. Three of these big boys sufficed for the two of us, so this also sweet on the budget.

01ca09442fb6855f9ff8cd97f188830d7d02c41606

Continuing in the orange and weird vein, check out the crust on this cheese:

01737845f68b20a54b6ccb2a2661d2882a8f8e036c If the moon is made of cheese, it would have a crust like this. I didn’t eat it (the crust, that is). But I did chunk out a piece of the interior which was nutty and had a great texture even  if the taste was a little too salty for me.  This is a very aged mimolet, from our local Marais vendor , Laurent Dubois. You know you can trust the suggestions of the best worker in France, and I can see how they won this honour. They dish up the cheese with a reverence normally reserved for diamonds and rubies.

01fc2fd897b4a821ca9233485fbb8095422f3bb970 I have offered my husband the honour of best dishwasher in France, but he declined, seeing my ruse for what it was. All this weird food cooking leads to lots of dishes.

On to the next weird dish, lamb necks. By now you know me, I’m cheap. So are lamb necks. “But how do you cook them?” I asked our Arab butcher. He explained that you just sautee it up and it’s good to go. “Don’t I need to cook it on low heat in the oven for a long time?”  He disagreed. I wondered if I should let it simmer for a long period in wine. He demurred. Really not necessary, just make it simple. Okay, he’s the boss. Here’s what they looked like in the skillet.

0164b7443d19b11b37a4d30f541660e7558f7dd2ea01ab62ecf804677b2848f4a342d2a4daf793e66e71_00001 And here, with button mushrooms and leeks. Basically, just flash-fried them.

01ab62ecf804677b2848f4a342d2a4daf793e66e71_00001 They were good. Tender and toothsome like a great lamb chop. The butcher was right. They didn’t need anything fancy. Just one problem. Super hard to eat. Have you noticed that food gets less expensive when it  either takes longer to cook or is harder to eat.? The great exception: lobster, which could hardly be more difficult to eat. Anyway, these little babies were GOOD, but you ultimately had to pick them up and gnaw away. Why? Anatomy.

At the risk of estranging you, I show you my gnawed bone. As an artist, I think it looks kind of cool, but you may think it just looks gross.

01e76f0b65e6406f3d38fe0871484860a87cb29cc7 You see what’s going on. The spinal column in its super-structure of bone. Within this butterfly of bone was lots of good eating. If you have the patience.

I know I do.

The French are Smart (most of the time)

Paris, I will love you always, but you have a rival: Bordeaux. Capital of Aquitaine, a port city and Unesco heritage site, this rival for my affections has so much going for it. Where to begin? Bordeaux’s port offers a mile or more of riverfront mansions,that date to the 18th century. The beige stones of their facades are reflected in the  soft light that bounces off the  River Garonne . This thrilling run of  beautiful buildings is not interrupted by anything ugly.  This is the first smart French idea for today’s post: when you build something beautiful, don’t mess it up.

fd7528fc-1abd-44f8-a8ec-f1050e4d8988Photo thanks to http://www.voyajo.com.

The historic city centre resembles Paris, the Hausmannian part, with massive carved stone buildings and wide boulevards. It is all familiar to a Paris lover, in a very good way.

010f1aa834231095a64abab4575d886f7a691b0f1c

There is also a beautiful medieval cathedral, to rival those in Paris and Chartes.

01881f8209198fa6b3be87fdf63aeb4fc6e3730433

 

But, while la vie Bordelaise has much in common with the good life in other French cities, they have implemented an idea that is really different and really smart. The entire city core is traffic-free. All pedestrian, no cars. It makes you feel like this.

015dca8fe1c8f7c82768bd2977cf5854c7f83b0e13

 

Silent electric trams offer pedestrians an alternative to walking.

01a7abb251b6269941abdd486893bba5f01422337d

 

The air of Bordeaux is so clean and breathable. Without traffic,it is so much quieter than other cities. And so much more relaxing: you are strolling without having to be vigilant about cars. I have never experienced this in a city centre. Have you?

Another smart idea, this time one also adopted by Paris, the presence of public sculpture.

016d2a538c4c1dfa80aff73d4b78beaa86697ae83f_00001 This one looks much like La Bastille, no? But here’s something different:

01ee590dc595dcb73139079af0c258256373ccb08d_00001 Cool, isn’t it? If you go past on the right, you think it’s an abstract sculpture, still very nice. It’s only from this angle you see the face.

Why don’t we have public sculpture everywhere in our cities? It makes the city experience so much more vibrant and enjoyable. Here’s a modest proposal. How about we take 1% of every construction project that gets approval and put it into public art?

Okay, it’s time to stop fawning and admit that occasionally, the French go wrong. I feel that in the interest of balanced reporting I should bid Bordeaux adieu and point out a couple of things I have noticed in Paris that  don’t seem very smart to me. Here’s #1:

01b4829d914e08314d93d73b155cddb065c658278e 01b86682262b5e4e0e4b5674d922fa9ad5aabe0ce0

PInk socks. For men. Not a good idea.

In my  first week over here I was at a dinner party of distinguished Parisians, and the 60-ish man introduced as an important art expert was wearing pink socks. Then I started seeing them in vitrines throughout the city. I personally am not ready for this. It is  not a gay thing. I can’t imagine my gay friends wearing pink socks. For example, my friend Jordan, who occasionally sports bright blue hair, would not be seen in pink socks. Neither would I. If you are older than ten years of age you should not wear pink socks.

Phew,  glad I got that off my chest. More seriously, here’s another idea that is not very good: sunbathing. No one seems to have explained to the Parisians about the dangers of sunbathing. There they are, everywhere, upturned faces, taking the rays. Sunbathing,_Paris_June_18,_2006

_40676816_paris_203longap This practice is not good and health authorities should take action to inform the public. As I’m sure these doctors will do, once they stop taking the sun.

0110f30af90fd111bb69ffbfced5f891f3c0104289

Wine Country

0100f7a25ea454fcf3099fc34831339184adb4c8a5 “They work the vines all the time; there is never a time when  there is nothing  to be done in the vineyard”. My hostess was explaining the work I could see going on in the vineyards that surrounded us in all directions as we sped towards St. Emililon. Workers were busy cutting the vines back to one leader and securing that branch to low horizontal tuteurs. Interestingly, vines  did not cover  the entire landscape. “The best wine comes from the top of the hill, that’s why you don’t see grapevines in the lower parts of the valley,” explained our host. Both of them grew up in the vineyards,  and they know wine-making both as a craft and as a business. They impressed on us the difficulties and limitations of the vintners’ life in Bordeaux. All aspects of wine production are strictly controlled. For example, those who exceed their appointed production limit will have their entire  production  for the year seized. So, if there is a bumper year, they have to throw any extra away. Ouch.  The vineyards are ancient, and have been subject to division within families, so many of them are quite small. Making a living on less than twenty hectares is a challenge, I was told, but many of the St.-Emilion vineyards are smaller than that.  Cresting a hill, we stopped. We had arrived at a hilltop village whose entry was marked by the picturesque ruins of a monastery: St.-Emilion.

011e32a191261bd11ebef3559fc80b0e94576cacb6 0136907b9e8489624fc4dc21864e143e46c62e2645 The town is terraced, and offers far views from a number of vantage points.

01e5f8cfa36b465ce4d4bab5469e5782949dfeefd1 Everywhere in the village, there are opportunities to taste and buy wine. 014b6acf7aca81f875cfb78a506bd86a494fc85796 I don’t want to upset anyone too much, but yes, that is a sign on the shutter offering prime bottles of St.-Emilion for 7 euros. Wouldn’t it be great to spend a few days here, tasting, strolling and eating? There is a Relais et Chateau hotel at the top of the hill. I think that it would be a good place to spend my final years, no?01651b9ced82902a7d1ce4db8b4801cc24978bbed0 This fresco image of a devil in the massive church in St.-Emilion seemed appropriate, somehow, as we prepared to indulge the flesh. After all, it was almost noon and we hadn’t tasted any wine.

Our hostess took us to the vineyard of a couple with whom she grew up. The Lamartine vineyard is just outside St. Emilion and has received many prizes of late for its quality Merlots and Cabernets. They greeted us with warmth and our hostess with joy. We toured their set-up.

.01cb215d9430be489331af6ad6a4b2cc5f6c14fc56011532ea9b4ba1288726bc0242e7e045ba86206f60

01c1844364e79d4eafbe1916209342686b814129ca These are the casernes that contain the wine before it goes into the barrels. Our host wanted to buy a case of last year’s wine to put down. “I can’t sell you any”, the vintner explained. I sold it all to the Chinese. Take this as a warning and drink as much Bordeaux as you can now, while you can still afford it. But here, the wine was 36 euros for a case of 6. I know. Why aren’t we ALL living there? In the tasting room, we tried two 2010 Merlots. One had been aged in the barrels you see pictured above, and the other aged outside barrels. I preferred the depth and richness of the former, although given the early hour the latter had an appealing freshness. My host pointed out the long finish and roundness of the wine, which he views as typical of the  St Emilion region. With our cases in the back of the car (we took some 2008’s) we drove on to a light, perfect lunch.0182881309e7adc9ff27a1b88ac1dc6807e001a88b With wine, of course. The restaurant is another spot you can taste and  buy local wines, and  boxes of their top 100  wines are  on display throughout the restaurant. 018a41608573227e99bf4873140b9838af59e606b2

Our last stop for the day was the childhood home of our host, a  chateau and working vineyard about half an hour from St.-Emilion. His parents, although aged, still live there and direct operations. As we met them, toured the chateau and grounds and shared a coffee with homemade cannele, the brioche-like cakes of Bordeaux, we could sense this family’s deep sense of stewardship and commitment to the place.

01006f54a54c115f56897d584b217dd1e3196de470 A corner of the chateau.

01602f37b1e8e1a3c62020db3b55f0fa3c2b14ad4e The date refers to the year one of the wings was built. Above it is one of many wine awards they have achieved, this one for the year 1878. Now, the Chateau no longer bottles its own wine. They sell it to the Rothschilds.

01d8601200bc24fadc0689e6b20b4b89d677e658f5 Opening this bottle at dinner the next night, our host  said that  his family’s wine  was one of the wines selected for the Barons de Rothschild collection.” Voila. A taste of  our chateau.” Legend indeed.