140, rue de Belleville
Today was the final day of the exhibition simply titled Dada at the Centre Pompidou. Paris is a city that doesn’t really embrace modern art. I mean, when your history is thousands of years old, the last 100 years are nothing but a ripple.
But the Pompidou Center proudly holds it’s place in the center of the spiral of Paris, the famous inside-out building which caused such a ruckus during the groundbreaking that women from Parisian society were reported to have thrown themselves in front of the bulldozers in protest.
Although it’s not a far walk from anywhere no matter where you are in Paris, I rarely go to the Pompidou since the lines always seem formidable. But today something in me prompted me to brave the lengthy queue which (as you can perhaps surmise) began a bit too early for me this morning…
I had an unconventional and artistic upbringing.
My mother was a weaver and a spinner. She went to art school with Andy Warhol and Barbara Feldon (best known for her role as Agent 99 on the television series Get Smart.) However, much to my star-struck chagrin, my mother never kept in touch with either. But she was really something. Even in our trappings of upper middle-class suburbia, I would stare wide-eyed as my mother would load up the Mercedes, don her Frye boots, toss her Louis Vuitton handbag in the passenger seat, and speed up to Vermont to spend the weekend on a farm with bearded hippies and shearing sheep with them, afterwards dying and weaving the soft, oily wool into beautiful fabrics.
She’d sometimes bring big, fluffy sacks of wool home and we’d sit on the front porch in the heat of summer (her wearing just a bra and shorts, drinking Miller beer from the bottle), scraping the wool between two wire-bristled brushes to remove any impurities (ie: thistles and sheep poop). Our hands were always dewy soft and fragrant from the lanolin and the lush softness lasted for days and days.
Luckily for me, I was exposed to a lot of art and creative expression, as well as a certain amount of kookiness during my life. How I ended up living in a little rooftop apartment in Paris, writing about baking cookies and cakes for a living is beyond me. I guess I wasn’t destined to work at IBM or perform brain surgery, although I know deep-down that having a son who was a doctor would have made her very, very happy and kept her in far more Emilio Pucci than she could have imagined.
At the Pompidou, the show was astounding and really knocked me for a loop. It led me to think and reflect about so many things while I wandered through the galleries, transfixed by films of illuminated squares and rectangles, and floating mobiles made simply of wooden hangars, the creator managing to find beauty and simplicity in everyday objects we normally take for granted.
Dadaism was a movement, or counter-movement, against the art “establishment”. It’s similar to how the blog was, or is, a reaction against the established ‘media’, where a free-flow of ideas isn’t restricted by economics or politics. It’s where anyone can say and do whatever they please. The other parallel is that Dada was a reaction to the coming technological age and they were rebelling at values they felt were destructive to society and humanity.
There are many political blogs that confront many of the problems in media and politics that traditional sources of information often avoid.
Unfortunately, I don’t read many of them. But I get a fair amount of other vital information from some of the others. For example, I am still trying to find deeper meaning in the break-up of Nick and Jessica. Or when Katie’s gonna pop and Tom and her are actually going to get married.
At the beginning of the Dada movement, many of the artists refused to sign their works. They felt that art should not be about the artist, but about the art itself and the message. Indeed many of the works were collaborations, much like some of the fine collaborative web sites that have sprung up that aren’t about the writer or the originator of the site, but about creating a discussion board and medium for a free-flow of ideas.
As I wandered through the exhibition, I noticed that many of the French artists, such as Duchamp and Picabia, were the most playful of the bunch and would use a urinal, a comb, or combine scraps of newspaper and typography into works of art. Artists from more disciplined cultures, like Switzerland and Germany, were more apt to play with industrial or mechanical themes. And American artists like Man Ray (who lived in Paris) used everyday objects like eyeglasses and cheese graters to make his ‘rayographs’ on photographic paper, combining both the industrial with the ordinary. He saw both in an entirely new way.
In their short time, the Dadaists knocked the establishment on its ear and I left the exhibition both stunned by their message and the magnitude of what they had accomplished. They were rebelling against everything people thought about art and the bourgeois values of their time. And now, even though their art is on display in a museum, valued at millions, it’s still able to convey anger and a contempt for the stratification of the world of art and the greater society.
It’s hard for us today to think that a major scandal could be caused by mounting a bicycle wheel on a stool and calling it ‘art’, or that a urinal simply signed by the artist would still cause rage in 2006. But it does. A man attacked the work of art with a hammer last week. He was the same one who attacked the work about 12 years ago. The piece, unfortunately, is no longer on display.
Once back home, I got to thinking more about why we do what we do. For example, here I use this website to communicate with readers impressions of my life in Paris and sometimes beyond. Wherever I travel and find something to savor and eat, I share it. It’s fun, and I enjoy getting feedback from those of you who choose to leave comments. Some of you comment frequently, and others will pop me a message once in a while. And I read them all with great curiosity and interest.
I enjoy the spirited camaraderie of other people I’ve met who have blogs. I’ve had the good fortune to devour Pierre Hermé’s desserts and tipple a glass of cool Sancerre with a few here in Paris. I got to star in a video, roaming the city streets in pursuit of fine chocolate with a very nice Jewish boy from New York (who, alas, is not a doctor either…sorry mom.) And I’ve swapped chocolate tips while oogling the most luscious photographs from fellow expats in Germany.
I’ve learned about well-aged, syrupy balsamic vinegar by lapping it up with fragrant wild strawberries in Florence. I tasted waffles and ice cream for breakfast along with bottomless cups of good ol’ American coffee in Chicago. And I had a fireside lesson in the art of making confit de canard in Gascony, fueled by a glass, or two, of fine, locally-produced Armagnac.
On the internet there’s few boundries. Want to write about gluten-free pizza? Go ahead! Did you find a magnificent ham at the market that you just had to photograph? Shoot it, and let’s take a look. Was dinner last night amazing? Show us. Had a culinary catastrophe that’s too funny to keep to yourself? Share the joke.
The internet allows us to keep in touch, bound by our love of good food, often accented by our appreciation of other cultures. You may be tethered to your desk at work or stuck in your apartment, but you can take a break and learn about a luscious sweet confection in Lyon, be intrigued enough to try a new recipe for Guacamole, drool as steaming noodles get ladled into bowls at an exotic outdoor market in Vietnam, and explore the vivid spices piled high in the markets of India and Africa.
I just don’t want to get wacked by any hammers along the way.
The exhibition will be at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC from February 19th-May 14th, 2006. And at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from June 16-September 11th, 2006. Don’t miss it.
(Oh, and by the way, thanks mom…wherever you are…)
Sandra Purins is the lucky winner of an autographed copy of The Great Book of Chocolate.
The Menu For Hope II raffle raised over $17,000 for UNICEF to aid the people of Pakistan. Big thanks to the many generous people, like Sandra, who contributed in our effort. I’m thrilled to be able to take you (wherever you are!) to my favorite ice cream place in the world for a few scoops of my favorite flavors.
May I suggest chocolat amer and caramel?…that’s what I’m having!
Sandra…email me…I’m getting hungry!
Yes, that’s a few slices of my pain aux ceriales from Le Grenier à Pain paired with some delightful cheeses that I discovered when visiting one of my absolute favorite fromagers here in Paris this morning.
Disclaimer: I confess to a secret and unfulfilled ambition.
Except for working outside in the icy-cold winter and freezing my bourse off, getting up at a godawful hour, and lifting heavy wheels of cheese, my fantasy job is to work as a fromager. Being surrounded by big wheels of cheese and small pyramids of goat cheese, the smell of all those gooey, runny, and nutty cheeses…it all makes me delirious with pleasure
Ok, I guess I could deal with lifting the wheels of cheese, but getting up at 4am?
Now that’s another story…
As a fromager, I would make recommendations to les clients. “Qu’est-ce que vous desirez, madame?”, I would ask, ready to council the customer. (Using my perfect French, of course…this is my fantasy, remember?) I’d slice and wrap a fine selection of cheeses to serve to her her family after a well-prepared supper of roast pintade and pommes des terres rôti with a fine, crisp Sancerre or gravely, full-flavored Pomerol.
We’d make witty banter about Johnny Halliday and socks with whimsical cartoon figures on them while I selected a few fine cheeses, perhaps a dead-ripe Camembert de Normandie and a Corsican Brin d’Amour, covered with fragrant mountain herbs.
Ah, je rêve…
I visit many cheese shops, oops, I mean fromageries here in Paris. I search for shops that have unusual cheeses, since many of the best ones seem to focus on a particular region or type of cheese like les chèvres or fine mountain cheeses from the Savoie.
Although many of the outdoor markets have people selling cheese, I’ve found none better than N. Caillère at the Popincourt Market in the 11th arrondissement on the Boulevard Richard Lenoir. Twice a week, the two cheery women who run their stand never fail to prompt me to discover a cheese I’ve never tasted.
Such as this triple-crème Délice de Saint-Cyr…
Triple-cream means the cheese has a minimum fat content of a whopping 75% (although that percentage refers to the amount of fat in the solids, and most cheeses are about 50% water and 50% solids…still, it ain’t no rice cake.)
Although I ate it at it gooiest best, at room temperature, the cheese left a sweet, suprisingly cool aftertaste.
They also had a lovely, and well-aged Comté de Jura, a marvelously-nutty, full-flavored cheese made from raw cow’s milk and is the most widely-produced cheese in France.
And it’s popular for good reason; it’s always excellent and pairs well with most other cheeses on a cheese plate as well as both white and red wines.
I’m in love most goat cheeses; I seem to like them all. With their smooth, dreamy-white interior and their soft, gentle aroma of the farm, it doesn’t matter to me whether they’re fresh or aged. It’s a rare day at the market for me if I don’t have one tucked into my market basket.
This Tomme de Chèvre is from a small farm and is called Vendômois. Although the outside has the fine crust of mold, I was told the cheese is rather young and the elasticity and suppleness of the p&acurc;te indeed suggests less affinage, or cave ripening.
(Tuesday and Friday)
-Place Réunion Market
One of the great things to do in Paris is to wander. I’ll often catch a film, search for a monument, of just mètro to a far-off neighborhood…then walk.
The 13th arrondissement of Paris is a real cross-cultural quartier.
Part of it is the quartier Chinois, where there’s huge and small shops selling exotic Asian fruits and vegetables, as well as unidentifiable cuts of meat (that are perhaps best left unidentifiable…)
Many Asians set up shops and restaurants in the area during the 1970’s, when the neighborhood was neglected and rather dingy. But now there’s much to be said for this area: there’s the little village of Butte aux Cailles, a tiny village with convivial restaurants, and cafés and there’s a fabulous natural-source piscine (swimming pool) where I’ve cooled off on more than one swelteringly hot summer afternoon in Paris. (Bathing caps are mandatory in public pools in Paris…even for men…even if you’re bald!)
On a recent stroll through the neighborhood, I stopped by one of my favorite out-of-the-way boulangeries, Le Grenier à Pain and found these whimsical chocolate-covered Pain d’Epices…
Almost before I could get out of the shop, I ripped into the sack, plucked one out, and took a bite. And boy, were they superb! Chewy and spicy-brown cake, fragrant with cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, all enrobed in a thin layer of bittersweet dark chocolate.
I turned around, considered getting another bag but instead spotted a beautiful loaf, le pain aux ceriales, on the wooden rack behind the counter.
Of course, when I got it home I immediately sliced into the irregularly-shaped loaf. It was excellent and just like I imagined it would be. Rich with whole-grains, deeply-flavored with sour levain, and a firm crust, and wonderful paired with an assortment of cheese I had just selected from the fromager. I smeared the slices with a luscious and dangerously unctuous Délice de Saint-Cyr, a triple-cream raw milk cheese from the region of Brie I’d just selected on the excellent recommendation of my favorite fromager.
Le Grenier à Pain
52, avenue d’Italie
M: Place d’Italie or Tolbiac
Tel: 01 45 80 16 36
(Other locations throughout Paris.)
Sometimes I feel like I must be walking around with a sign on me that says…
“Even though it’s obvious from the way I’m holding it, I’m carrying a fragile dessert that I’ve spent hours making…
…But please feel free to walk right into me anyways.”
Yes, that was me trying to navigate Paris, tranversing the sidewalks and mètros of Paris, hoping to make it safely to the New Year’s party I was invited to with my Almond Tart.
As those who read this blog regularly may recall, I’m a target for Parisians when carrying fragile cakes and tarts down the street. For some reason, they’ll just walk right into me.
But this time, I got wise to their antics and thwarted their efforts to derail me by remembering a favorite recipe from my past, Lindsey’s Almond Tart, one of the all-time great desserts that I made almost every day at Chez Panisse for years and years. Once baked, the tart is bullet-proof: and as anticipated, the disk of firm caramelized almonds successfully withstood both the Line #1 and #14 mètros.
I made it safely to my New Year’s Eve fête with the tart. I did get body-checked by a Parisian in the Bastille mètro, forcing me to crash into the tile wall, and heard the loud “Thwack” of the porcelain cake plate it was resting on.
“Zut!, I thought.
But the tart arrived safely and after dinner, everyone nibbled on it happily along with the last of the cold Champagne along with the Chocolate, Sour Cherry, and Toasted Almond Bark that I made with fleur de sel, which was equally a big hit.
So here’s a few resolutions for my life in 2006…
-I’m going to avoid the black tar as much as I can…
-I’m going to perfect my Madeleine recipe…
-I’m going to cut back on the amount of chocolate I eat…
-I’m going to get to work on my next cookbook…
-And I’m going to become a true Frenchman and no matter how impeccably or fashionably dressed I am, I’m going to wear the wackiest socks I can drum up…
I will avoid socks with images of Homer Simpson or Asterix, though, so popular with the men here in France, though. Even I have my limits.
Sleepy-eyed after a very long night of wining & dining, I crawl out of bed and pour myself a steaming hot bowl of café au lait and toast slices of pain au levain…
The beginning of another year in Paris.
I bring the bowl to my lips and take a comforting sip.
I slather butter on my warm toast. It melts and forms little buttery puddles in between the delightfully irregular bubbles revealed each time I slice and toast another slab from the hearty loaf.
I drizzle it with bitter chestnut honey. Delicious.
The sweet, creamy smear of butter and the sharp, amber honey pair feel just right this morning after a night scraping briny oysters from their shells and washing them down with endless flutes of icy Champagne. After we polished off several platters of les huitres, our next course was tiny roasted quails, expertly roasted with root vegetables, accompanied by the smoothest puree of potatoes, mounded alongside, bathed in a delicate sauce made from the savory pan juices.
Afterwards, a long sleep was in order while all of Paris closed up for the night. My re-entry to the world begins when the late winter sun peers out from behind the curtains. A few slow, tentative movements as I slide out of bed, and I find myself back into the world.
That wonderful luminosity of Paris!
The sun peering through the grey still of winter.
The heater buzzes softly in the corner, the only sound, except for the faint patter of traffic on the street down below.
The gentle quiet of a slow morning, as Paris begins to wake up. Curtains are tentatively opened in buildings across the way. A queu begins at the corner bakery, Parisians exiting with slender baguettes tucked under their arms and warm, buttery croissants enclosed in stiff bakery paper.
How wonderful to live in a city where breakfast inspires a photograph.
I finish the last, warm sip of my café au lait.
My clothes are draped carelessly over the sofa where I dropped them the night before. I gather them up.
Then I smell it.
That ever-present, overpowering smell.
My clothes reek of cigarette smoke.
The woman sitting next to me last night spent the evening chain-smoking. She went though an entire pack of cigarettes during dinner. No sooner did she finish one cigarette then she lit up another. The room became so smoke-filled that I had to get up several times during the night just to catch some fresh air in another room. My eyes burning with acrid cigarette smoke, at times I was barely able to breathe. Every so often, the room would clear of it’s grey, foul, heavy smoke…then someone else would light up, prompting everyone else to reach for their cigarettes and light up another.
My clothing will have to go to the cleaners.
I settle in at my desk to check my email.
My email doesn’t work, nor does my internet connection.
No email. No internet. Nothing.
I consider calling Noosnet Customer Service, then I remember the last time I tried that.
Four weeks later they re-connected me.
I shiver and wonder why it suddenly feels so cold? Why does it seem so dark inside?
I switch on a light. Nothing happens. I try another lamp.
The heater has stopped buzzing and the metal feels cold to the touch.
My electricity is off.
I begin to get chilly, thinking a nice, hot shower will warm me up.
I run the water for a few minutes.
The pathetic spittle of water that comes from the shower nozzle is barely tepid. I let the water flow for a few more minutes. It’s still cold, the water just slightly warmer than the now almost near-freezing temperature inside my apartment. I shiver and think about getting in, then turn off the sad trickle, putting it out of it’s misery. I decide to get back into bed, burying myself under my fluffy down duvet and crisp linen sheets, where it’s all warm and cozy.
“Bienvenue à Paris…let’s give it another year.”…I sigh to myself, before dozing off.