Tag Archives: Paris

…writing, art at home…

I am forever lost in the world of Art. In so many ways. And I love it. Just like Dante’s alter ego in The Divine Comedy’s opening lines of Purgatory, I find myself lost. He found himself lost among the tall, dark trees, lost in his middle age. I, on the other hand, find myself lost among paintings, ink sketches, water colours, reference books, auction house catalogues, antiques, artist biographies. It is a fantastic way of being lost, since the feeling makes me search and explore. I want to learn more, see more, find more. Ponder on what art and beauty gives us. On what it means. Revel in being adrift on the sea of fine arts.

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A small part of the reference library in my study. I can’t function without these books.

Having spent a fair amount of time writing a two-part article on art for a recently started magazine, I got thinking on what kind of art I surround myself with. What am I looking at when I’m at home? When walking through a corridor, walking out of the bedroom, sitting at my desk? What am I dreaming of acquiring to hang on my walls? To someone like myself even, who spends his life in the fine arts, it can easily become just a fascination. The hunt for another object or more knowledge on art becomes a way of life. It is easy to forget what’s around you.

Hard at work, but extremely rewarding as always.

Hard at work, but extremely rewarding as always.

When working, I don’t have any big paintings hanging around me. Just the books on the shelves in the study. They supply me with over 100,000 pictures if needed. Whichever period of art, whichever architectural movement, I can find something on most topics among all the books. But as a reminder of previous periods in life, I have two small postcards stuck to the window-frame. One of Paris, by van Gogh, and one of Amsterdam painted by Monet. The postcard over London, what feels like my second home town, has disappeared in a recent move.

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At times the personal has to come before professional pride. Also for an antiques dealer and art historian.

One of my favourite periods of art is Early Romanticism. It’s stretching from about 1790 until the late 1830s. It was a great period for Northern European artists travelling to the southern parts of Europe. There they learnt to handle light, shades, and got the oportunity to learn from the old masters visiting museums. The water colour became a medium for professional artists as well as for amateurs. Up until now it had not been an accepted medium for professionals. This makes the late Regency period, also called Empire and Biedermeier style in interior design and pictorial arts, very interesting. It is today possible to buy high quality water colours from the years around 1800 for almost nothing. Quite incredible really, but the style isn’t very fashionable for the moment. It was up until ten years ago. And will soon be again. For sure.

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Another favourite is this little adorable cherub by Johan Gustaf Köhler, painted in Munich in 1836. He was Carl Larsson’s teacher in sketching at the Academy.

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Water colour from 1806, painted by Sophie Tersmeden, hanging in the bedroom.

So what is someone like me dreaming of? Oh, a lot of things. But a few weeks ago I found a painting I felt I could not live without. But I forgot about the auction, and I guess that was just as well. The painting didn’t sell cheap. It was a beautiful oil painting of a passage under Colosseum in Rome, painted around 1815 by the father of the Danish “Golden Age”, C. W. Eckersberg. It sold for €24,000 which meant it almost doubled the asking-price. If I’d only had the money, and remembered the auction,  the painting would be hanging in my dining room now. I know the perfect wall! But until I have the oportunity to buy that kind of art, I will carry on leafing through my books for more knowledge and constant inspiration.

The latest in a pile of inspirational reads, "Ann Getty: Interior Style"

The latest book in the huge pile of inspirational reads, “Ann Getty: Interior Style”

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Filed under Antiques, Art, Auction Houses, Culture

Celebrating France in 16 Pictures

As often as I can I take a flight or hop on the train to France. Those of you who have followed this blog for some time know all too well that I can go on for ever about France’s food, her wines, culture, literature and so on. This time though I thought I’d share some photos from a trip I did a while ago.

Starting in Paris, I took the TGV to Montpellier, hired a car and drove around in the South for a bit before flying home from Marseilles. Since the country is so vast and geographically diverse it gives you the most amazingly changing vistas and experiences. Also foodwise, the difference between the fish stew of Normandy and  the Bouillabaisse of Marseilles is like night and day. The same with the wine. A riesling from Alsace is vastly different from a white Sancerre or Chablis from the west of the country, not to mention the difference between a heavy bodied Bordeaux and a complex, sun drenched Chateauneuf-du-Pape. All so great in their own ways.

This post is about the views though. The exterior more than the interior. The outer impressions, the retinal joie. I can’t get enough of the country, its beauty and its love affair with beauty. You can see it in every corner, wherever you look. And if it isn’t pretty, you can be sure it’s quaint and picturesque.

The essence of Paris: La Métro

View over Avenue de Breteuil

From a lamp post outside Musée Rodin

La Tour d’Eiffel

Rue St. Vincent in Montmartre

Yet another lamp post, still in Montmartre, Paris

One of the few remaining vineyards in Paris, Le Clos Montmartre, by Rue St. Vincent

Beautiful pebble beach in Sète, Languedoc

Evening view over the bay in Sète

Stunning little church somewhere outside Arles

Thunder clouds closing in

Jesus looking on while tourists gather like flies in a tiny square in Carcassonne…

Poseidon in Nîmes

Tired looking gas pump somewhere along the way to Avignon

The sun setting last time around for me. At least in Sète

These long steps leads up to the Central Station in Marseilles. In 34c they’re quite taxing

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Filed under France, Paris, Rhône, Sète

I could have done that myself!

When earlier this morning I read an article by Michel Houellebecq in The Paris Magazine (a brilliant little publication from Shakespeare & Company in Paris) I started thinking about the concept of contemporary art and its availability to the general public. The article “Approaches to Distress” was on contemporary architecture and not on pictorial art per se, but the first few lines touched on a topic I often think about and that makes me frustrated out of my wits: people walking around exhibitions of contemporary art saying smugly to their company “Oh, look at that! I could have done that myself. Why do these so called artists get to call themselves artists when my four-year-old could have done it better? I just don’t get it!” No. Clearly you don’t. Houellebecq puts it like this

It’s well known that the general public don’t like contemporary art. This trivial statement in fact contains two opposing attitudes. The average member of the public, coming across a display of contemporary paintings or sculpture, will stop in front of it, even if only to laugh. His attitude will fluctuate between ironic amusement and outright sniggering. Either way, he will be aware of a certain element of derision. The insignificance of what is on display will be a reassuring guarantee that it is harmless. It’s true that he will have wasted his time, but not in the end in a particularly unpleasant way.

So what is it then that makes these selected few worthy of their place in the artistic top layer? Why are Jackson Pollock and Marc Rothko such stars, together with Malevich, Mondrian and a not insignificant number of others? Not to mention Picasso. Women with three eyes and five breasts?, you may say. How can that be any great? In my view it comes down to just one thing: they were there first. They came up with the idea.

There is no question about the truth in the statement that a four-year-old can paint like Jackson Pollock. Of course they can. But they don’t paint like him when they grow up, they consider it childish when they become teenagers. And with that attitude they don’t change the map when questions arise in which direction the art movement will go. But Picasso did. So did Malevich with his squares and white backgrounds. So did Jackson Pollock with his streaks of paint. They questioned and wanted to go beyond what was common and ordinary.

For me this is what it all comes down to. When we grow up we conform to society and keep to the same track our teachers, friends and family tell us to. We might not be content and we might be unhappy, but we still stick to the Big Plan that is shaped like it has been for hundreds of years. We are taught to “think outside the box” but as soon as we do no one dares to hire us and our neighbors start talking about us behind our backs. Why? Is that what we want? No, certainly not. But still, we allow ourselves to laugh at the artists that dared to change the art world and brake out of the conformity of the Academies and the monetary power of the patrons. So come on and celebrate them, think about what they did. Imagine yourself in 1918, having only seen traditional painting and then all of a sudden you’re confronted with an early Cubist Picasso. You might not have liked it, you might still snigger, but admit that it was pretty brave and amazingly stubborn of him to carry on with this idea of his. Well aware of what the critics and patrons were saying, there where master painters who had gone the traditional way through the Art Academy just like Pablo Picasso and still wanted to break out of the conformity.

I am the first to agree that Flemish renaissance painting is amazing and beautiful, but it can’t just go on like that. Next time you visit an art exhibition of contemporary art, look at it with new eyes. Think about what it takes to create what these artists created and still create. Laugh when it’s too weird, sure, but don’t forget what’s behind it. Remember the courage sometimes mustered to do what they did. To do what they do today. For us.

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Filed under Art, Contemporary Art, Michel Houellebecq, Pablo Picasso, Shakespeare & Company, The Paris Magazine

Re-reading and remembering times past

In general I don’t read a book twice. It doesn’t matter how great it was, how close I got to the characters, how much the experience gave me. The reason? There is simply too much good literature out there to dwell on what’s already been read. I am also too impatient.  With a new book in hand I always find myself checking how many pages there are in total, then figure out by which page I will be halfway through and finally try to get through the whole blasted tome as quickly as possible so I can start on a new one. The ever-greater pile of unread books looks down on me guiltily, so there simply is no way I would have time nor the interest to re-read.  Or so I thought.

There have always been a few exceptions. Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited I never get tired of re-reading, and now finally I have once again taken on the mammoth task of re-reading Marcel Proust’s À La Recherche du Temps Perdu. I read it, or them I guess would be more accurate coming to this seven-volume monster of a piece, the first time around when I was 19. I had fallen in love with France and it’s 19th century art scene many years earlier, and a small, battered study edition of my mother’s of Combray I-II had always been staring at me in the upper library of where I grew up. I had always had a deep urge to read it, but had never dared. Then, when I was going to Paris for the first time, I read it in an afternoon a few weeks before in my small dorm room at the university where I happened to be studying at the time. Lying on my back, skipping lectures because I was so taken aback with this new world of storytelling, I bought all of the eight volumes in hardback next time I came back home. It was an expensive investment for a young student at the time, but I haven’t regretted it for a second. And now I’m at it again. I saw the volumes when I was at The Rectory where I grew up a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t resist bringing the first volume with me on the plane back to Amsterdam. And for someone who in general doesn’t read a book twice, it has been a peculiar experience.

Since it is almost a decade ago I read À la Recherche last, in a rather Proustesque way I find the different volumes having like small, mental connotations not dissimilar to how the material items does set the storyteller in the books off on his long, winding sentences and reflections. Like I remember reading Combray I-II, I clearly remember how I read volume two and three while in Paris for a few weeks at my first summer break from university. So isn’t it strange then, that the strongest experience I now have re-reading Proust is remembering the feelings I had about life, the world and about this new literary experience ten years ago? I certainly get a lot out of reading it again, and once again finding the fascinating details the author has left for us to reflect upon, but the strongest feeling is to be brought back to 2001 all over again. The feeling of being a young student with his whole life ahead of him.

So maybe this is my equivalent to Proust’s moment with the Madeleine cake and the linden tea? Re-reading opens up doors to new parts of ones mind, not just in the literature. For me it has been a rather odd realisation, but maybe that’s the greatness of literature? Not just that it helps us exercise our imagination and broaden our horizons, but that it also stays with us longer than we thought. Maybe more of the actual experience of reading stays with us than we think? Fascinating.

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Filed under À la recherce du temps perdu, France, Literature, Marcel Proust, Paris

Where is home?

Constantly travelling. Always in new accommodation. Never your own furniture. Never sleep in your own bed. You know, the one you bought six years ago to suit your length, weight and your spine perfectly? It’s in storage somewhere with three complete homes shipped from different parts of the world.

You never know when to be able to move “home” again, all depend on where the work is. It is tiring sometimes, to never know for how long you’ll be staying in a particular place. Will it be for three months? Maybe two years? Or, maybe this is where “home” will actually be from now on? God only knows.


But still, a freelancer’s existence is exiting. It gives you experiences that hardly anyone else gets early on in their career. You see new places, get to travel far and wide, enjoy the hospitality of new colleagues and friends from the most diverse backgrounds, both ethnic and geographic.


The new cuisines you get to try, oh can they not be the most interesting? You try food you fall in love with immediately, some grows on you, and some are simply inedible. Not to forget: languages. You learn a phrase here and a word there and all of a sudden you’ve picked up another language.


I think for me though, what stays with me the longest is the beauty of a place. Sometimes the cities or towns you visit are appallingly boring and you can’t wait to get away. However, the times you spend in major cities and beautiful countryside settings can be enormously rewarding.


Being able to walk in the Cotswolds on your day off, or take a stroll along the Seine before you need to be at the theatre for an afternoon session is just incredible. It is such a grace to have the opportunity of seeing all these places and spend prolonged periods of time abroad. To get to know new countries and cultures, and still being payed to be there. Isn’t that just amazing?


Still, home is always home. The saying my home is my castle couldn’t be more accurate when you spend months, sometimes years, away from the warmth of your own home. But I’m sure that one day I’ll be able to unpack all those boxes and take out all the furniture of storage. To once again be able to create my own castle, wherever that might be.


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Filed under Amsterdam, Architecture, France, Gothenburg, London, Paris, Sweden

Is French Cuisine really dead?

Whenever I speak to friends, family or colleagues the question always comes, sooner rather than later: what’s so amazing about French cuisine? Fifty years ago they were amazing, fine, but what have they got to offer today? The reason they ask is obviously because they now how passionate I am about French cooking, but also because they know that I love having these discussions.  I will defend French chefs and French cuisine until Hell freezes over. It’s just that simple. But regardless of my fervent beliefs, even I have noticed that something is amiss in France. Not just the cuisine is falling behind the rest of the world, but that is after all my main concern.  The cuisine and wine, that is.

Have I got a Proust moment when it comes to French cuisine? You know, the madeleine and linden tea for Marcel Proust, the Sole Meuniere for Julia Child, that kind of thing? Yes and no. I have loved French cooking from when I was a child. So, when I finally went to France for the first time when I was a 19 year old chef-to-be, I sort of knew it all. Or so I thought. What overwhelmed me was the array of outstanding produce in a normal supermarket like Carrefour. How, and where, did they find it all? And more importantly, who bought it? It didn’t take long until I realized that normal families did. So the food was still important to the average Frenchman. I was relieved. When I visited Chateauneuf-du-Pape for the first time a year or so later and spent an entire day testing wine from different chateaux, I was sold for eternity. I swore to whomever “I will never give up on French cuisine if this is how it can be”. Sadly, it has all changed rapidly.

Michael Steinberger’s brilliant book Au Revoir to all that: the rise and fall of French cuisine came out on Bloomsbury in 2009. It deals with exactly the questions food and travel journalists have asked themselves for over a decade. Why have the French cuisine all of a sudden ended up in the backwater compared to Great Britain, Spain, Japan and the United States? Is it due to lack of talent? Is it due to bad finances? Bad training and no inspiring culinary role models perhaps? Well, it seems like it’s a little bit of all the above. Steinberger brings up the issue with France being the second most profitable market in the world for McDonalds. How could that happen? And the weird reality of the quality of AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée – i.e. wine typical of its origin. Up until a decade ago that meant very good, high quality wine) wines being more and more, well, crap to be honest. Steinberger tells us the story about how in 2005 one hundred million liters of unsold AOC wine had to be distilled into – ethanol! It certainly makes you wonder…

What makes the book so interesting and almost impossible to put down is Steinberger’s passion for the subject. As a fully-fledged Francophile, wine columnist for Slate and long time contributor to Financial Times among other high quality newspaper dailies and weeklies he has learned to write impeccable prose beautifully combined with exact figures and facts. The book is loosely based around interviews with some of the biggest names in French cuisine over the last fifty odd years like Ducasse, Bocuse and Gagnaire. We also have the opportunity to meet Pascal Barbot (of  Astrance) and Jean-André Charial (of  Oustau de Baumanière) among many others, who have equally fascinating stories to tell about being a one, two or three star chef in France in the early 21st century. It doesn’t matter how much you know about the French restaurant world today, this book will have a new angle and excellent analysis on many an issue facing the French and their in my view still unsurpassed cuisine and wines.

I haven’t been to Paris for 18 months and miss it every day. I miss the smell, the snotty attitude and the enormous culinary tradition that oozes out of the restaurants and patisseries along the boulevards. I miss being able to go to some of the best wine merchants in the world. I miss the beauty of the city. Nowhere else in the world is the architecture, art and culinary tradition married to such perfection as in France. In Paris in particular. Dreaming of my next visit to an upmarket bistro in Paris is one of my favourite pastimes. Until next time, Michael Steinberger’s book has served me well in nurturing my love to the Country, the people and their food and wine. May it all survive and flourish again, let it develop and bloom into another era of culinary perfection born to inspire.

 

This post is dedicated to the memory of my mother Britt Bergh (16 September 1952 – 4 November 2010), a big enthusiast of France, Her art, cuisine and literature. Without her I would never have read Proust, Balzac or Julia Child before my 21st birthday. She was a steadfast supporter and immensely encouraging about this blog and always  eagerly awaiting the next post. The book reviews in particular.  I will miss her enthusiasm enormously, and is sad she will never be able to read this post.

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Filed under Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Food and Drink, France, Paris, Rhône, Wine

How she mastered the Art of French Cooking

When I grew up there was always a weighty tome, a two volume cookbook that stood in the bottom cupboard in the service room among other cookbooks and foodie magazines. It was always consulted on special occasions, but more often than not it was put away again because of the vast, expansive, almost encyclopaedic length of the recipes. But when there was time and effort put in and one of the recipes were used, we could be sure of the astounding result of the meal that awaited us. Those of you who have any knowledge of French cooking, and cookbooks on French cuisine bourgeois in particular, know exactly what I’m talking about by now. And, more importantly, whom I talk about. This is a tribute to the marvellous Julia Child and her little gem of a book My life in France.

I guess I really should write about Julia Child’s cookbooks, and in particular Mastering the Art of French Cooking. However, so much needs to go into a post like that that I simply don’t have the time right now. Maybe another day, but not today. If you’re a serious foodie I’m sure you know enough on the subject anyway.

My life in France is a sweet little gem of a book co-written with her husband Paul’s nephew Alex Prud’homme in 2004/2005. It was finished in the year after her death with the help of all the letters she and Paul had written from the 1940s through to his death in the early 1990s, and hours of taped and written down conversations between Alex Prud’homme and Julia in her house in Montecito, California. What’s so wonderful about the book is the honesty to life and the serious love of food and France she manages to convey between the carefully handled lines written by Alex Prud’homme. If you saw the movie Julie & Julia earlier this year you will recognise a lot of the content since this is the book that is the background to the biographical parts of the film where Meryl Streep plays Julia Child. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth watching the movie for her unsurpassed characterisation alone.

Something else that is striking about the book is that it isn’t just on Julia Child and her way to greatness. It is more concerned with telling the story about how she and her husband Paul enjoyed, discovered and loved in their adopted new home country, how they struggled finding decent places to live in Paris and around France just after the Second World War. How it was damp, cold, hard to find anywhere that was insulated enough, had working gas heaters, running water inside etc. Paul Child’s photos describe this beautifully. He was a truly talented artist with an avid interest in photography. Not just pictures of Julia and her cookery-bookery (as she called it) life is included, there are also a fair amount of beautiful pictures from Paris, Marseille and the trips they did together around La Belle France. One is also taken on the journey of the struggles she and her colleagues Simone Beck (affectionately called Simca after a cheap, tiny and not very reliable Renault car she drove) and Louisette Bertholle had with getting their masterpiece of a cookbook published at all. Numerous publishers said no and others wanted it to be shortened and abbreviated into virtual nothingness. Luckily for us today they were proud and said no to silly suggestions like that and waited until they found someone who wanted to publish it in its entirety.  If they hadn’t carried on with their quest to educate the American housewife in cooking proper food, we would have lost an all-important link to the greatest food tradition in Europe, if not in the World.

The courses Julia Child took at Le Cordon Bleu in the 1950s’ might not haven been worth much, but the chefs she met there, and who recognised her enthusiasm and took her under their culinary wings, was the last living links to the great tradition of the French cuisine bourgeois. The chapters where she describes how chef Max Bugnard takes her to his favourite butchers, fish mongers and vegetable stalls in Les Halles and teaches her to recognise this, that and the other are just amazingly inspiring! They also make me furious that I will never be able to visit Les Halles, this mysterious, today unreachable food Mecca with its weird personalities and fascinating stall holders. And most importantly, what wouldn’t I give to have had the opportunity to taste the famous soupe a l’oignon first hand.

Maybe, though, this is part of the mystery and beauty that surrounds the French cuisine and its reputation that makes it so alluring. The lost connection with the chefs and the now partly lost tradition of manual cooking and how to recognize good produce thanks to the enormous supermarkets that have turned the village markets into a novelty too expensive to be frequented by anyone else than tourists. Would it be better to be back to how it was? Probably not. I’m a romantic born and bred, but even I can see the advantages of a society that have advanced from privies, no running water inside and rats in the kitchen. Still, if you want a touch of La Vieille France, Julia Child’s book is a must. If you’re a serious French foodie, you can’t live without having read it.

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Filed under Food and Drink, France, Uncategorized, Wine