Chasing Matisse: The Book
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March 2, 2003
The Burning Pomegranate
Driving along the highways of Brittany, I notice the roadkill is foxes and remark about this to Jim. We never saw a fox in Arkansas even though they certainly exist. When I was a child, my grandmother would tell me stories about foxes on her farm. They were not particularly complimentary.
The roadkill tells you something about the natural selection and the wildlife in a place. Years ago, my oldest friend Libbi and I spent a lot of time driving the little roads around Batesville. It was one of our favorite activities. Even back then we discussed a calendar with the roadkill of the month as the motif. In Arkansas, there are certain months of the year that the roadkill is skunks, terrapins, even tarantulas. Now armadillos are included in the group but not back then. The fox population in Brittany must be immense.
After a long day of working (Jim's writing is going very well), he cooked the most delicious dinner-a roasted chicken, haricots vert, and brown rice. He likes to say he can't cook, but he can and quite well. When we were first married, he didn't really have this skill except for grilling succulent and smoky meats. He started helping me peel and cut up vegetables. He was perfectly willing to do other things as well, if I explained what to do (and as long as he got to sit down and watch the news, relax with a cocktail). Over the years, he became more proficient but didn't want me to think so. He didn't want the cooking tar baby on his back. But I knew what he was up to and continued to give him chores and lessons here and there. Blair and Bret got some too, and when Matt lived with us, he also had kitchen duty. We'd all take turns cooking dinner which was great! Bret's dinner was usually tacos, but the rest of had more flair. Matt often sautéed terrific spicy-hot green beans. Jim was working in Hot Springs most of that summer, but when he was home, he'd fire up the grill.
Over the years, he's become a good cook. Since we've been in Brittany, he has prepared most of our dinners while I work. He may ask me a question or two, but his ability is set firmly in place, and his seasoning skill is first-rate. I think he even enjoys it, though he wouldn't want me to know. After we consumed our evening's fine fare, we danced in the kitchen. We've done this two or three times in France-not out-but home when the mood has struck. We love to dance and are natural partners. I follow Jim's expert leads as we swing and twirl across the floor. We get noticed when we're out in public. For me, dancing is a great joy in life-moving my body to music wherever it takes me. At Matt and Samantha's wedding in California, Jim and I cut quite a rug, but so did Libbi and I as we careened through the jumble of people with our improvised free-form. (At our 20th class reunion, we did the same thing, kicking up quite a stir in the small town where we grew up. The next day my feet were maimed from the high heels I was wearing.) The three of us even took many turns together in a fluid entanglement which resembled Matisse's Dance paintings, and which Libbi choreographed as we went. I don't know what the other guests thought, but we had a blast.
I emailed my brother Blair and asked if he'd been keeping up with our website. He wrote back that he hadn't. What?! I said that he should be ashamed of himself, and he said that he was-which gave me a sisterly glow about his guilt. Blair thinks he has better things to do than reading about our glorious adventure in France-like bringing home the bacon in the form of wild ducks and doves, reducing the burgeoning deer population. He expertly applies most of his time (oh, when he's not working) to hunting and fishing all the things the French like to eat. He'd fit right in here. He could put on his big boots and muck around the fields with the farmers, chew the cud with them. He could talk turkey (wild) with the sellers of volaille (poultry), chat bait with the fishermen at port. He'd love the food-the duck, oysters and rillettes and roasted birds of every sort and stuffing, all the goodies and treats. He's a history buff, and there's plenty here. Blair spent six weeks in France when he was in high school, but hasn't been back since.
On Saturday, we drove to Brittany's capital of Rennes and its market. We'd been there before and wanted to go back. Rennes is a city of 350,000 people and has an international air with cafés and brasseries that reflect it. It was a beautiful day, and people were out in droves enjoying the sun. The weekly market is huge and filled with so many choices that it takes a few minutes to get the lay of it and to decide what you really want or need. It was just as we remembered-long lines of venders with vegetables and fruits, a building with butchers and meat, and another with cheese and birds, not to mention the huge fish bazaar and the mobile venders of roasting birds and hot crêpes and galettes stuffed with cheese, ham, sausage, or something sweet coming off the smoking griddles. Jim and I were starving, and the first thing we did was line up to buy one. (Blair Arnold would love all of this.)
I feel grounded in an open-air market with the crops from the land, the farmers who grew them, and the other shoppers who appreciate this as well. People are friendly in markets. There's a sense of community. The earth is connecting us all. We filled bags and bags with leeks, celery, beets, carrots, green beans, pumpkin (or some gourd), mushrooms, apples, duck, thyme, cheese, and a huge chicken. (We also bought the most beautiful olives but somehow didn't get home with them.) We would eat very well and healthfully this week.
The chicken I selected still had its head and feet. I sliced my hand across my neck and ankles to indicate to the jolly French woman that they had to go. I don't want to see a head attached to anything I eat. She also cleaned something out of it (I didn't want to know what) and prepared the gizzard and liver for us to take home. On the way, we drove by King Arthur country and the Forest of Paimpont, where Merlin conjured up an underwater castle for his love Viviane, making her the Lady of the Lake. She raises a foundling baby who becomes Lancelot. We will go back there and the surrounding area which is filled with Arthur lore. Blair Arnold, are you reading this?
We have seen some spectacular sunsets here, but the one on our way home from Rennes was in a different league altogether. The sun looked like a giant burning pomegranate that was setting fire to the sea of clouds around it. Each second that it smoldered, the clouds went up in orange and pink smoke. The glow of the panorama changed constantly as this glorious brulée went on and on. There is nothing more inspiring than nature. It connects us primally to creation. Primitive cultures recognized and honored this, but with civilization we have for the most part detached ourselves from this powerful force.
The next morning I looked in the refrigerator at the mound of vegetables we'd bought and washed, chopped, and cooked a Turkish leek and carrot dish while listening to one of Michel Thomas's French lessons. Then I played Mozart piano concertos, which sounded like a dramatic soundtrack to my life. For the first time, I wish I had a newspaper to read-preferably, The New York Times. It felt like a French Sunday to relax and enjoy, to feel "being" here. We took a walk up the road.
That night we were invited to Alice and Guy's for dinner. It was a wonderful evening in their new home with two other delightful couples, whom we enjoyed getting to know with our labored French. We hope to see them again before we leave. We're meeting new people all across France, and this is satisfying.
Our world is growing larger, our lives enriched.
posted by Beth on March 2, 2003 | View All Diary Entries
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