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Thanks for checking out The Aix-Files, my

blog postings inspired by my time in and around

Aix-en-Provence and the Vaucluse. The spot includes travel tips,

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tidbits about Southern France. Enjoy!

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Many Moods of Monet


Line-up for the Monet Exhibit
Six-hour wait for the Monet Exhibit

Jordi Savall (Louise and Steve looking on)
The best thing about the Monet exhibit at the Grand Palais in Paris, aside from the fact that a good friend got us in ahead of the six-hour line-up, is having the opportunity to see several paintings of the same scene or subject side by side. The exhibit brings together over 200 paintings from 70 international collections. Monet liked to paint a scene over and over, at different times of the day and different times of the year, in some cases many years apart. To see how he is able to capture the light of early morning, and then transform it to the bright sun of midday, then the sombre colours of evening, or the greys of a cloudy day is extraordinary. We saw examples like this of the cliffs of Normandy, the cathedral at Rouen, the haystacks in Holland, lanky poplars, women with parasols in the field, and of course, the iconic water lilies and gardens at Giverny. It was a truly memorable experience. The exhibition came down on January 24, and leading up to the final day, the gallery was open 24 hours a day.

Monet painted the Seine over and over, too. And one can recreate the experience of appreciating its many aspects by simply strolling along it. It is always the same, yet always different: from the first breathtaking glimpse of it from the Left Bank, to the view from the majestic bridge at the Grand Palais with the Eiffel Tower in the distance; to the wide open vista near the Jardin des Plantes; to the view from Pont Neuf (New Bridge, which is actually the oldest bridge in Paris), Bateaux Mouches floating underneath; to the view from the pedestrian Pont des arts, decorated inexplicably with hundreds of locks, Notre Dame cathedral behind, as the sun sets.

Likewise the ubiquitous cafés that are found on every street corner in Paris may all look alike, but each offers its own particular charm. You can squeeze into a green and red wicker chair at the famous Café de Flore on bd St-Germain or slide into a creamy wicker chair with green trim next door at Les Deux Magots, a café also steeped in history. It’s been around since 1813 and was a popular haunt for the literary and intellectual élite, such as Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, the young Hemingway, and Pablo Picasso. But a tiny espresso sipped among the other tourists there will set you back four euros. More fun is to join the crowd at cozy La Palette tucked in on rue de Seine, where the whole neighbourhood stops by for an after-work apéritif, everyone shaking hands and kissing everyone else, including the waiters, as they arrive.
Othewise, Louise is partial to the Caféothèque in the Marais.

-Learned to love Mondrian (well, sort of) with the help of Steve and Louise at the Pompidou Centre.
-Walked for hours and hours and hours with Neil and Sarah.
-Danced at the Guinguette de la Mouff’ at the foot of the Moufftard Market, one of the liveliest in Paris.
-Had a succulent dinner at Le Baratin in the 20th and a simple, but really delicious lunch at Le Petit Vatel in the 6th.
-Took advantage of the January sales.
-Heard Jordi Savall leading the Orchestre des Nations performing music by Rameau at the Salle Pleyel.
-Cooked some great meals with Louise and Steve at their apartment.
-Tried to decide between the lemon tarte at Mulot, the apple tarte at Poilane or the mandarin tarte at Philippe Conticini's Pâtisserie des rèves for dessert.

Monet relished a good meal and even kept a series of cooking journals. These have been turned into a beautitul book called “Monet’s Table”, by Claire Joyes. It’s full of gorgeous photos of his kitchen as well as his garden at Giverny, which supplied some of the fresh produce for his dishes. He ate his main meal precisely at 11:30 am so that he could take advantage of the afternoon light. His meals generally included soup.

Slice six leeks horizontally, rinse well under running water, then slice crosswise into half-inch pieces, using only the white and tender green parts. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a soup pot and sweat the leeks for a few minutes until they are tender but not browned. Meanwhile, peel and chop four large potatoes. Add them to the pot along with five cups of water, a bay leaf, a few sprigs of thyme, one teaspoon salt and and freshly ground pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender, around 25 minutes. Fish out the bay leaf and thyme sprigs.

Monet wouldn’t have had an immersion blender, but feel free to blend it smooth if you wish, or enjoy it as is, chunky-style. His recipe calls for adding lots more butter at the end, but a couple of tablespoons of crème fraîche or cream stirred in would be my preference. Garnish with chopped parsley. Enjoy!

À la prochaine,

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