Chasing Matisse: The Book
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March 16, 2003
Connecting the Stones
There he was-an Ed Harris look-alike standing behind the biggest, most beautiful dish of paella I've ever seen, another of bubbling cous cous, and some sort of pork dish in a brown sauce with fruit. The banner said Mr. Paella, and Mr. Paella was quite the rage serving up his exotic delights in the market at Vannes. With his movie star charm and enticing aromas of the bubbling pots floating through the air, how could anyone not stop to buy from him? He doled out his specialties and hawked to the crowd all with a big smile on his face. (His teeth are not as good as Ed's.) We had to have it-saffron rice mounded with shrimp, chicken, mussels, and more. Umm.
It was freezing, and I wished I'd worn MMC to gather my yellow and white turnips, spinach, tomatoes, parsnips, a sausage with hazelnuts and another covered in Herbs de Provence, roasted chicken, chocolate fondant, a strange Breton cake that seemed to have a crust and was burned across the top, a lovely chevre, an incredibly fresh Camembert, and filet of some-kind-of-fish. It's the first time we've bought any poisson. I couldn't face one with its head on and had to work up my courage to attack the array of fish and eels and shellfish-including some marine creatures whose origin I was unsure of. The market is not as massive as Rennes's but big and good, well worth a trip, and it has something Rennes doesn't-Mr. Paella.
In our work-filled days and quiet nights, we decided we had to have a big outing at least once a week, so we didn't congeal like a Southern jello salad. Vannes is a nice-sized city of 50,000 people and not far away. We hadn't been before. We carried our heavy sacks to the car, so we could look around. The quaint and lively old town starts at the crescent square of Porte Saint-Vincent with cafés and hotels looking onto the harbor filled with sporting boats and surrounded by 17th Century mansions. The sun came out and warmed us, so we sat down at the Bar De L'Ocean for a lunch of sandwiches and drinks and soaked up the rays and atmosphere.
Like Rennes, Vannes has an urban, lively flavor with lots of restaurants and creperies, nice stores for shopping, and picturesque houses and cobblestone streets. The old and new have meshed in great energy that you can feel walking through it. The Cathédrale St-Pierre is set high and in the center of town with scaffolding around much of it. The squares and rues are lined with well-kept half-timbered houses. The town ramparts are impressive and gardens eloquent, but there is some construction going on at the moment. Since this was Prehistoric Day for us (we were also visiting Carnac), we wanted to visit the Musée Archéologique du Morbihan which has a good collection of prehistoric specimens from the region, but it wasn't yet open for the day.
We came home and unloaded our stash of fresh, delicious foods. (I wished for a few of my cookbooks including John Egerton's masterful Southern Food, my Barbara Kafka Roasting. But the truth is I usually just get the general idea of a recipe and do what I want anyway.) Then we drove the few kilometers to Carnac, which is much larger than Stonehenge, to see the thousands of megaliths standing in French fields. The signs guided us into the old village which is charming and pristine. We'd decided to get a little education before we viewed the stones and went to the Musée de Préhistoire Miln-LeRouzic to introduce us to the rocks. The museum's collection starts in the Lower Paleolithic and continues through the Early Middle Ages. There is a wealth of objects (and handouts in English for the French-impaired to follow the displays) to check out and also a good bookstore, where you can pick up some references in English and absorb more of the substantial subject later.
When we left, Jim stopped the car long enough for me to step into the church of St-Cornély. I found it simple yet pretty-wooden vaults covered in paintings-dark, and mysterious feeling to go along with the huge stones standing in the fields. There are acres and acres of them, and the amount of work to create these alignments, dolmens, and tumuli of massive rocks is striking. From serious to weird, myths abound of what the stones mean, how and why they're there-including that St. Cornely turned Roman soldiers into stone for persecuting Christians. (That doesn't sound very Christian to me, but everyone wants payback for injustice.) Frida had to see as well, and we all walked through. What did our predecessors who followed these paths think and feel?
What does seem clear is that early man wanted meaning in life just as we do. It doesn't matter when or where you live, what your specific beliefs comprise, or how sophisticated you may be. There is a symbolic life and world and an effort to understand it. There is also a need to be part of something-a larger whole. I will use the word "timeless." I think "innate" might also apply, but I know there is some discussion of the complex workings of the brain as a possible basis of mythological thoughts and activity.
When I get in touch with who I am, what we're trying to do, I feel grounded. I feel satisfied and happy. It's been hard to find this place within or outside of myself in the last few weeks. First, I was working very hard. Then the house sold, and I felt rudderless and fearful. I had to feel the emotion, breathe it in and understand this chosen loss in a more visceral way than I had before, which I have been able to do with some success-moving ahead.
This is a more internal time-which is good and bad. In Paris, even if I worked all day, there was the pleasure at night of getting into the city's rhythm right outside our door. The simpler quiet of the country is necessary and fulfilling to move around with ease and rest with the trees and green, but the humming, frenetic energy is missing. I know that I need it. I suppose there are some who like one rhythm or the other (and perhaps may fear to stray), but I require both.
Jim painted, then built a fire. He roasted fennel, baby turnips and their greens with Poirée, olive oil, salt pepper, and the fish from the market. We talked about his paintings-life, authenticity, light, movement, color, space, design-and why we were here. This made me remember again and feel excited by it. I've always loved art and artists but have never thought a lot about it critically beyond the fact that I do. We read and discussed a poem that a friend had written and sent us. It is his art, and he is expressing himself, connecting with himself and in turn with us by sending it.
Madame Mickels said that Matisse's goal was to capture an emotion in his paintings (which ironically is something we often try to avoid, or it overcomes us). In thinking of these elements of art, this is the point-emotion and the expression of it-which makes me wonder about Carnac and the mystery of the megaliths. Isn't this what the megaliths are as well, some way of connecting to the whole that we long to touch?
posted by Beth on March 16, 2003 | View All Diary Entries
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