Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Rediscovering the taste of things

Also known as..."Oh mon Dieu, what on earth are they are selling us at the supermarket?"

Behold Exhibition A, above. Now...let's see if you can guess which of these tomatoes was bought - in season no less - and which one was grown in our garden...Exactly.

Yes, our little garden specimen is not bright red (a good thing as it is a noire de Crimée or a "black" heirloom tomato), it is kind of scrappy looking and has some stretch marks along the top...but what about on the inside? Just to be sure, let's try the specimen on the right. Hmmm, a distinct flavor of...watery...air?

Above are the basics of what we are growing in our garden, along with snappy salads, a failed attempt at resuscitating moved wild strawberries, not so hot red peppers and radishes that pack lightning heat. We are learning that not everything grows perfectly in this silty soil of Provence but if they do, well then look out - it is like tiger-taming. 

When there has been a "first" harvest of something, Remi and I would celebrate the moment by having a dégustation and then stare it each other, wide-eyed with wonder while slowly savoring each bite. Then we would blurt out, every single time: "But this doesn't taste anything at all like what we have been eating! C'est fou! Not even close!"

The tomatoes burst in our mouths like the friendliest version of the sun imaginable (and will get their own post with recettes next week), the zucchini is so dense that it could pass for steak, our neighbors shallots are smoky not stinging, the cucumbers have a sweet perfume and aren't watery in the least, the purple eggplants have made a convert out of Remi as they aren't even remotely bitter, let alone the white eggplants which make us feel like we are dining out at a Michelin one-star and the potatoes which demand to be the star of the show, never again to be relegated to the role of lumpy side-dish.

Those of you that grow vegetables have most likely stopped reading by now. You know all of this and secretly shake your heads at the rest of us poor fools. But what about those of you who have never had a garden? This is our first attempt at gardening ever. We were uncertain as we have killed many a houseplant in our years together but, as I have mentioned, there is a lovely little community of fellow gardeners who kindly keep us on track. And truly, as the rental of the land is only 20 Euros for the entire year, we thought, "What the hay, let's give it a go." Certainly, it is a lot of work but of the kind that wipes away any troubling worries in the process and the bounty just keeps on coming. We are hooked

And we are also convinced that it is wonderful for our health too. Because even if you can afford to buy organic at Whole Foods or any big producer, many grow their goods with hothouse techniques - yep, even here in France, land of non-genetically modified, non-hormone injected and non-cloned foods (don't even get me started on the recent lobbyist bought insanities in the House of Representatives). But here is my question: while the jury is still out regarding whether heating foods in plastic can cause cancerogens in the body - isn't food grown under plastic basically subjugated to the same effect? Or worse? If anyone out there knows the answer to that question, please speak up. But the theory seems plausible to me... does reaping all of the "extra" benefits of growing your own. Such as discovering that you magically happen to have five fleurs des courgettes that have blossomed on the same evening and that if you stuff them with ricotta then bake them with a thin paint of egg yolk and a sprinkling of bread crumbs, you automatically have at hand the perfect apéro item for two.

It's enough to start me off on the path of rediscovery all over again...

Friday, July 24, 2015

Rough around the edges, part deux

I was sitting at a table amidst a group of smart, charming and interesting people. It was an introduction that had come about through this blog as a few of them read along. There was a surprising breeze on the outdoor terrace perched next to the Rhone in Arles. It played with the wisps of our hair and lifted the conversation to and fro. But honestly, I was talking a lot - quite the rarity as I have grown nervous in groups during recent years. I think it was born out of the delight and relief of being amidst people roughly my own age and culture (highly unusual), a kind of letting go, on top of the fact that I had already been talking for hours while giving one of my walks through Arles. Maybe it was the heat running over my forehead but I could hear my voice beside me as if the words were spooling outwards trying to catch the breeze. Or it could have been the rosé that was generously being poured. But there was a moment, just the tiniest of ones, when I happened to catch - literally - the glance out of the corner of an eye of one of my table-mates. And somehow I instinctively knew that it was - enfin - a recognition of something that they had been hoping to see in me, based on what is written here.

Those of you that have been reading a very long time know that I moved around quite a bit in childhood - every four years or so - and the result of that can be a push and pull within me of wanting very much to be liked or the reversal on a dime of "I don't need anyone" (but you, Baby). Like a lot of people who lived through such moments of blur and constant newness, I adapted. But that left me a bit rough around the edges. I didn't always know where the extension of me ended and where my absorbing the company around me began. That survival tactic ended quite abruptly - or so I thought - during my young adulthood, something that I wrote about a few years ago, hence this is a "part deux."

But here is the thing. I recently reread that post - written in 2011 - and I have a different perspective on both it and myself now. Since then I have mused a ton about the shifting and shedding of personality. The cult of it too in our society. I thought that, especially in these past few years where so much has happened - where we have down-sized twice and moved out into the silence of the country - that I was stripped down to the bone, left with only the essentials. So much gone but also so much gained. What it might be like to be a white bird in the snow. But that side-glance was like a tiny prick in a balloon. Enough to let out the air but not to make it pop. I have been chewing on the questions it awoke in me ever since.

Who are we when we make our way through the world? Where does the how of it come from? I want to ask these questions again. Is that always an extension of our inner selves? I don't know if it is. Or maybe it is for most people but not necessarily for an adapter like me. Actually, during that conversation at the table I told an anecdote about when I was an actress and not wanting to do film anymore after seeing my face during the rushes for the first time and thinking, "But that isn't me, that face doesn't represent at all what I feel." That and I had a memory that floated down like a feather from nowhere last week. It was of the head costumer at the Yale School of Drama saying, "Well, it is for you because you are a girl that knows how to wear a gown." Just that. And I haven't been able to shake that sentence because he was right, I did. And I do? It certainly wouldn't appear so as I am today in tank top and shorts, legs crossed at the angle of a number four. With all of the weight that I have gained in the past few years my body feels heavy. Quite masculine.

And where does that come from? Well, here is the answer I have from some of those questions - beyond the weight which is my own - I think it comes from Remi. Or, to be more precise, in my not, finally, being so reduced to the essential as I thought but - without thinking - picking up on his way of doing things, of moving, of expressing. Truly, when I had that thought earlier today I was like, "Oh come on, really?" but it makes sense and not just from a "couple who have been together forever" standpoint. Me, still a chameleon then, still adapting. Is that a bad thing? It hasn't always been as that flexibility helped me be a decent storyteller. And while I have definitely become ultra aware of that roughness around the edges - certainly since that conversation - maybe I can use that to my advantage to make the changes that will make me feel...better. And then I can redefine that feeling as something more akin to...porous?

Remi and I will be celebrating a big anniversary (that I am quite proud of) in a few days and I have a birthday around the corner so I imagine this post is coming right out of that pressure of time passing and hoping to get some truth from it. I hope that doesn't sound too pretentious, I don't mean it to be. As I have been writing I have been trying to put these pieces together - not only for me but for you as well just in case it rings a bell. But does it? In reading the comments of that earlier post, it seems like this is an issue that most of you tidied up long ago. And while many of us have been writing about the changes to our appearance mid-life (can I begin to tell you how I loathe that phrase?) that isn't really what I am trying to roast over the fire either. For me, it seems like I am not always connecting the dots between my inner and outer self. That is good to know. More to learn then and the best part far my inner self is concerned? That feels mine and true and as solidly delineated as a child's roughly shaped drawing of a heart.

Thank you for all of your wonderful wishes for La Contessa on my previous post...

to listen to:

Bon Weekend...

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Birthday Wishes for a Contessa

©Carla Coulson

And not just any contessa but...La Contessa! I am referring to the wonderful Elizabeth Kirkpatrick who just happens to be turning 55 today.  

Isn't she beautiful? Yes, inside and out, you will see...

I remember having a discussion - ok, let's call it an argument - with Remi just after I had started blogging about whether these people that I was in contact with could ever actually be "real" friends. He thought certainly not and yet I was hopeful. Because, from the very beginning, I found or was found by so many fascinating people who seemed to me to be utterly genuine in their hearts. 

Elizabeth was that way, immediately. She was both literally generous in all of the thoughtful gifts that she would send both Remi and I (including a pair of the shoes glimpsed in the photo above in my size because she knew how much I coveted them) but also overwhelmingly so in her spirit. 

She inspires me to no end - from her gorgeous wedding in Italy to her love of a little pig named Banksy. Because she is true. In our cookie-cutter world, she knows who she is and why she is, plus it just comes naturally for her to do good when she can. I think that she said to me once something along the lines of, "Well, why wouldn't you if you could?" That is my Contessa.

I will give you an example. There are many but here is one. Elizabeth knew that I was going through a hard time this past winter. We had been under an enormous amount of stress for so long and I just was struggling. To talk to her on the phone is always a treat - it is impossible not to be cheered by her sing-song of a voice - and I should have known that the wheels would turn after having hung up with her. For you see, she had a plan. She had already met an amazing woman, Ellie from Have Some Decorum a while back and knew that her birthday was coming up. She was worried that Ellie would not have friends from the States near her for her birthday and suggested that I go up (as by this time I was an ardent reader and so were many of you here as well). I explained that we just couldn't afford for me to make the trip at the moment. Well, two weeks later, I opened up a card from Elizabeth only to find the cash (!) for the train ticket! I went and now consider Ellie a friend. I am very, very aware that La Contessa did this as much if not more for me than for Ellie! It worked.

One of my definitions of friendship is that I know that I could count on said person when the chips are down to be there for me. Even though we have never met in person, Elizabeth most certainly fills the bill and then some.

©Drew Wright

With her handsome husband Giampiero, they make the most out of the everyday - as you can see in this perfect portrait by photographer Drew Wright. There is no saving of "the good china" or the "fancy clothes" - I remember our bonding a long time ago because she had a magazine photographer coming over and she was wondering if she should wear her purple velvet caftan or not. She did and looked stunning! In 2013, she flew her boys to Paris in order to have the ultimate photo shoot by the fantastic Carla Coulson - one based on the iconic photographs of The Duchess of Devonshire - save that in this case, they brought the chickens into the Tuileries Garden (see first photo)!

If Elizabeth is the ONLY person that has written a guest post here, it is for a reason. I wanted for her to share a bit of her enthusiasm for life with you all, in all it's glorious abundance.

Thank you for being you, friend. 

Happy Birthday!
With much Love,

PS. To discover more of her world - or to just pop over and send some well-wishes, please go to

Friday, July 17, 2015

Texture hunt, part deux

The streets have been abandoned.

I mean as in they are truly, utterly, I could skip down them naked while playing a ukelele and no one would notice empty. Not that I plan on doing that mind you, it is simply far too hot and I would be afraid to sizzle the pads of my already blackened feet. 

We are in the midst midst of our third week of mid-90's to 100°F temperatures with another in front of us just announced. It has been enough to silence even the most hardened locals who tried to blithely declare, "Mais, c'est ça l'été!" No, my friends, we usually get a week of this roasting oven in August. But this? C'est pas normale.  Even the scrappy cigale in our olive tree has barely enough energy to shake his belly into song.

When I do head out - early or late but never in-between and covered in a ridiculous hat - I can't help but resee this little village under this clawing light that exaggerates light and dark, heightens surfaces and blurs the normally solid line between opaque and transparency. My neighbors old stone walls have bumped up into the surface of the moon or Mars. Like Ben, our wise Golden, I hopscotch from shade to shade all the way out to our garden, which, by the end of the day has baked, hard earth and wilted greens. I can hear it sigh with relief as the water comes rushing through to the roots.

It is a time for not too demanding manual tasks as the most basic intellectual pursuits escape me. Books tumble into my lap as I turn on my belly to nap. Ideas and words have locked themselves into the drawers of my desk, refusing to come out until the temps have cooled, making it impossible to write. Photos for posts have piled up, knocking at the computer screen for attention but I just stare at them, blinking.

I am not complaining, of course. Remi has been in the midst of photographing a really interesting project that I will share with you later on under blazing studio lights for the past two weeks, the dogs are forced to wear their fur coats which droop heavily after I hose them down and renovation work continues with the heave of new roof tiles and the churn of cement just down the street.

Perhaps this is more of a billet-doux in an apology form for not being more active here. I usually go quiet in the winter months; this is unexpected. But I find my brain as vide as the streets and there is a form of texture hunt going on inside - both within the walls of this closed up house and inside my rather empty noggin'. But I keep thinking back to my friend J recently admitting that she likes jet-lag as it takes her to this kind of dreamy place. And so it is all a question of perspective then, as it always is.

For I do find Provence incredibly beautiful even while she is sporting her most dashing summer clichés, presenting her best angles to the visitors who have come from the world over to admire her...I just feel not entirely a part of all the buzz but rather am floating along beside it. Perhaps that is not a bad thing after all...

Happy Summer Days everyone and Bon Weekend...

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Rencontres d'Arles International Photography Festival - 2015

Last Monday, I was fortunate enough to be invited for the opening day of the Rencontres d'Arles - an international photography festival that was founded in 1970 by photographer Lucien Clergue, author Michel Tournier and the amazing historian, Jean-Maurice Rouquette. After a few years of glorious beginnings - featuring such prestigious invited guests as Ansel Adams, Robert Doisneau, Ernst Haas, Imogen Cunningham and Brassaï - the festival quickly became incontournable and heralded as one of the most important in Europe. Featuring in large part new works, Les Rencontres now attracts photographers, gallerists, editors and photography lovers from all around the world.

One of the aspects that I had always appreciated about the Rencontres was that it was free! Well, at least it was for me during the nearly ten years that I was a proud resident of Arles. Now, that I live just outside in the tiny Provençal village, that is no longer the case. All the better then to be invited and try to see as much as possible for the opening. As I arrived in town, the line for tickets was already well out the door - a sight that will be common until the end of the festival's run on September 20th.

This year, many of us who have followed the Rencontres for years were especially eager to see how the program would differ now that Sam Stourdzé, former director of the Musée de l'Élysée à Lausanne, has replaced François Hébel, who had been the festivals director since 2001. He gave an energetic welcoming speech, as did Arles' Mayor and the French Minister of Culture who had descended from Paris especially for the occasion...

...but I have to admit that my focus did wander a bit. Have I mentioned recently that it has been hot here? 100° F and not a drop less meant that we were all more than willing to follow the officials... door into the relative cool of the 15th century Fréres-Prêcheurs Church...

...where the English photographer Martin Parr - who was the Artistic Director of the Rencontres in 2004 - has collaborated with the excellent French musician Matthieu Chedid (who performs under the name "M") on MMM.

Their work together was part of the "Résonances" category of this years festival where a photographer was grouped with someone of another field - in this case music. Martin Parr photographed M in concert  while Mathieu Chedid wrote a score for Mr. Parr's collection of past works - both hoping to (I am so sorry but this is just how I have to say it) strike a chord in their viewers.

Despite his being acclaimed as one of our most successful contemporary photographers, I find my interest waning in Martin Parr's work. However, I do feel that the collaboration was a successful one and that the series of "beaches" in the various niches of the church (complete with deck chairs) used the lieu in a way that is particular to the Rencontres' tendency to create interesting contrasts. 

More to my taste was the winding helix of Olivier Roller's installation - fabricated with double-sided illuminated panels far more beautiful than you can see here - a part of his "Figures du Pouvoirs" or Figures of Influence series that was suspended in a darkened chapel of the Musée Reattu.

At the Reattu, the exhibition, called Daring Photography in English, celebrates the museums fifty years of collecting avant-garde works; a collection whose beginnings in 1965 would instigate the formation of Les Rencontres five years later.  And what a phenomenal collection it is. It became delightfully overwhelming to come across walls full of Man-Rays, Brassais, Edward Westons and Avedons, not to mention singular pieces that were breath-taking...

...such as this tragic portrait of Marilyn Monroe taken by Arnold Newman shortly before her death...

...or Rebellion Silence by Shirin Nashat, 1994. 

The moments wandering through the Reattu were most certainly some of my favorite of the day. Our past is our present and the selection of photography, curated by the new museum director Pascale Picard was simply stunning.

Not all of the showing spaces are so prestigious and I love that about Les Rencontres. Here, a group showing of up-and coming photographers whose work had been selected by Jean Paul Goude was displayed in the parking garage for Nord-Pinus Hotel.

Will you forgive me if I admit that the heat got to me? I have only this one image to share with you for a truly exceptional (absolutely the correct term) exhibition: The Spirit of the Tierra del Fuego People by Martin Gusinde. Mr. Gusinde travelled to the Tierra del Fuego region at the Southern tip of South America four times between 1918 and 1924 as both a missionary and an anthropologist in order to meet the last of the native peoples of the area, wishing both to document and become as immersed as possible in their vanishing society. The images are not only exceptionally beautiful but haunting. So much diversity has been lost. Didn't I just say that our past is our present? And our future?

After resting woozily on a park bench, I made it out to the Pard des Ateliers, the former workshops for the SNCF trains and the future home to the Fondation Luma...but I am not ready to talk about that project just yet, even while I watched its construction continuing despite the crushing heat. 

Inside the Grand Hall, a catacomb of exhibition spaces have been divided into the enormous space. I found Markus Brunetti's enormous images of cathedrales for Facades intensely soothing to take in, especially when given the proper time to do so rather than simply rushing from one to the next.

I also really enjoyed the storytelling behind Thierry Bouët's Personal Affairs quite charming, in which he contacted people who had interesting items to sell on Le Bon Coin (France's answer to Craigslist) in order to interview them and take their portraits.

Amongst this years Discovery Award nominees, I was out-right fascinated by the "moody sensitivity of adolescence"...

...depicted so astutely in the pieces by Delphine Chavet, someone whose work I will follow in the future as well as...

...the classicist meets pop self-portraits by Senegalese photographer Omar Victor Diop...

...whose technicolor representations of iconic African figures imbued with modern touches made me smile then think. 

Both of these artists were presented by exhibition curator and art critic Claire Jaquet and seemed absolutely pitch-perfect to me both in their ideas and execution for this new period for Les Rencontres.

And then there were moments like this...when I stumbled into a room where a hipster barber had just shaved off quite a bit of a young mans rather copious hair and beard. Why? I have no idea but there you have it.

By this point, I was sweating rather ungraciously. It is hot as Hades out at the Ateliers and I am just going to take a tiiiny moment out to ask the same question: why? A day pass to the Rencontres is 29 Euros. That is pretty much the price that nearly everyone is going to pay. Now, I know that it is incredibly expensive to pull this huge festival together but I also know that 96,000 people came in 2013 alone. You do the math. In most of the exhibition spaces, there is no air (not even a fan) and I only found one spot where water was available for free - one - and there is only rarely a place to sit down. It is kind of scandalous. I have a hard time imagining the elderly or young children making it through and isn't the point that the Rencontres (which translates to English as "Encounters") be accessible for the rendez-vous?

That said, let's finish on a positive note. I did decide to keep going to the Magasin Électrique as there was one exhibition that I really did not want to miss. It is simply called Congo by two Magnum photographers whom I admire, Alex Majoli and Paolo Pellegrin. 

One could say that they form a duet as the photographs, taken in the country of the exhibitions name, are not labelled. I gave up trying to figure out whose I was looking at and instead fell into the play of light and shadows, the unsentimental representations of struggle and joy stripped of all predispositions.

My heart was there, transported. 

Les Rencontres d'Arles
Exhibitions July 6th to September 20th
Viewing hours depend on the space, roughly from 10am to 7:30pm
Pass for all exhibitions valid for the entire festival: 37 Euros
Day pass: 29 Euros
One entry per exhibition for the passes
Single exhibition prices starting at 3.50 Euros
Free for disabled persons, inhabitants of Arles and those under 18

* Note: There is much more to see at Les Rencontres, including the retrospective of Walker Evans that I will very much look forward to sharing with you later on this summer.