Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Escape to Avignon - May 21-May 23, 2010

Well my dears,

        The trip to Avignon was something of a bust.  Bill and I have been suffering off and on for 6 weeks of so with a kind of intestinal disorder.  Every time we are ready to go to a doc about it, it goes away.  Then it comes back.  It came back just in time for our Avignon adventure.  So even though the weather was perfect, we didn't really enjoy our time there.  We did manage to visit, very thoroughly, 3 museums, all of which were in former baronial private mansions from the 18th and 19th centurIes.  All of them were very beautiful, and had good collections.  
       One of my favorite painters, Hubert Robert, was very well represented.  One of the homes was owned by a collector before it was bequeathed to the State on his death.  He had a huge collection of Robert's sketches which formed the basis for the huge canvases which I love.  The most famous, and heart stopping one is of the Roman temple in Nimes.  He made several of them.  The first one I saw was in the Louvre, and the second one was in one of the Romanov palaces In St. Petersburg, Russia.  Three of his grandiose paintings (but not of Nimes) hung in the main art museum of Avignon, the Calvet. 
       There were plenty of other works to admire, and lots of furnishings and objets of art too.  One in particular was 19th century "Chinese" bedroom on the same house at the Hubert Robert works.  It was all done in my favorite color, red, with dim lights and a fabulous Chinese "wedding" bed.  There were also collections of ivory figurines and many other objets which made me homesick, yet again, for Taiwan.
        Our other cultural outing was at the Avignon opera house.  We have been trying to see an opera there for years, but each time we find one we want to see, it is sold out.  (They must have some avid fans who buy season tickets every year.)  So the deciding factor in our choice of Avignon for our getaway was the fact that they were putting on a performance for which they had seats available...never mind that it wasn't an opera, it was certainly a classic..."Le Petit Prince".  The description talked about music and dance, so we though it was the musical.  Big surprise!  It was a one woman show - a recitation of the book- but with some modern music played mostly on several kinds of marimbas, bells, various types of drums and other unusual percussion instrumends and a saxophone. There was also a chorus that sometimes paraded around on the stage and sometimes went below to sing with the orchestra.  They were mostly incomprehensible except for two passages..."Nous sommes des roses"  repeated many times for the little prince's encounter with the rose garden, and "Baobab!  baobab! baobab!"  Those were amusing interludes, but in general the choral part of the show was boring. The orchestra, on the other hand was  fun to listen to.  The dancers were excellent and a joy to watch. They were the dancers from the Avignon opera theatre, and were joined by the woman who was doing the recitation.  It was wonderful to listen to her magnificent voice and her wonderful stage diction.  However, although separately most of the parts of the performance were enjoyable, they didn't really seem to go together, and I have to agree with one of the many children who came to see it.  He remarked to his mother "I'm disappointed, I thought I was going to see the Little Prince."  Plenty of other kids slept through most of the show.  
       Since returning to Nimes, the nice weather has continued, but today is the very first day I have felt up to enjoying it.  Knock on wood that this time I'm feeling better for good.   Bill still hasn't got to this stage yet, but by tomorrow he may be cured too.
         Hope so, for this Saturday is one of our favorite operas at "Gordon's OperaDou", and we want to be in good form.  It's supposed to be a very controversial production. 

                    That's it for now.  More anon.
                      Love, Lynn and Bill  

Feria in Nimes - May 19-May 24 2010

Feria in Nimes
Thursday, May 20, 2010 5:18 PM

       Today is the second day of the "Feria", Nimes' claim to fame in the calendar of Europe's great festivals.  In fact, it is considered the second biggest party ever after Munich's "Octoberfest".  Munich's festival is all about beer.  Nimes' is about bull fighting in the 2000 year old Roman arena.  There are supposed to be a million people here, carrying on in the streets all night to the sounds of Spanish music, plus modern additions of rap, techno, house, pop, jazz, etc.  I calculate that 54 bulls will be put to death by 21? of the finest matadors of Europe.  But since I'm not an afficionada I don't have a program in front of me.  I do know that 6 bulls are killed in each program, and some days there are two programs.  
       Last weekend, the Ascension Holiday, a local bullfighter, Sebastien Castella, fought a solitary program against all six bulls in the Arena (a very special feat).  All of the receipts are to go to Haiti! Not only that, but the famous Colombian artist Botero made a special poster of him for this event, and sold the numbered copies for Haiti relief.  I got a free copy of the poster (the comercial variety, not numbered) because I like Botero, and it is a nice souvenir.  I haven't seen the figures on the money for Haiti, but Castella was counting on more that a million Euros!
        The big Feria takes place every year during the French National Pentecost Holiday. and it lasts 5 days.  We try to leave town during this time because of the noise, dirt, disorder, and general messiness (not enough porta-potties, people getting sick in the streets, and graffiti everywhere).  So, although we haven't noticed much disruption so far, we are going to Avignon tomorrow for two nights to see some theatre, "Le Petit Prince", and some museums.   We will be back on Sunday, so will not miss any street festivities on Sunday and Monday, May 23 and 24.  Of course we will not be seeing any of the bullfights.
    The weather is starting to get better, and so we are feeling better too.  I still haven't been able to wear summer clothes, though.  I hate the idea of having to wear pantyhose while sightseeing in Avignon.  
I'll give you an update when we get back.

                     Love, Lynn and Bill

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Lynn's Cooking Disaster Day

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

It all started a few days ago when I was leafing through one of Seabourn's luxurious catalogs of the various cruises.  One of the featured destinations was South Korea, and the article included a recipe for "Kimchi".  Bill is an avid fan of kimchi, so I copied the recipe down.
       As luck would have it, when I was buying some veggies at our little Arab greengrocer next door, I was surprised to see what I took to be Bok Choi on the table.  Just what I need for kim chi, thought I, and so I bought two heads.
        Then I had to go downstairs and dig a huge stainless steel pressure cooker out of the storage cupboard to hold all the salt water and bok choi for the first day of soaking.  The following day, I went out and bought some special hot chili paste (Arab style, since the Asian kind wasn't available) rice vinegar, a BIG bottle of soy sauce, daikon radishes and ginger for the rest of the recipe.  After unloading my booty in the kitchen, I drained and rinsed the bok choi, and then tasted it.  It didn't taste like bok choi!!!  I finally figured out that it was young "Blettes"  a vegetable the French are very fond of.  I think it is kind of like Swiss Chard.  The thing is, when I have seen it before It is huge and leafy (about the size of very big rhubarb).  The ones I bought were small and the stalks and leaves were more in  proportion.  

       Although kim chi requires 3 days of fermentation before it is good to eat, I had planned to use some of the ginger, garlic and soy sauce for a Chinese style dinner as well as for the kim chi.  My menu was going to be crispy meatballs glazed in a sweet and sour sauce served over rice noodles prepared with various vegetables.  So when I discovered that my bok choi was really blettes, I decided to cook them in a stir fry dish to go along with my noodles and meatballs.  So setting aside my blettes, I began to prepare the meatballs.  after I had mixed the ingredients and was forming the balls, I noticed that they didn't smell Chinese.  (I was wearing rubber gloves to form the balls, or I would have noticed sooner.)  Then I noticed that they seemed to be oozing red juice.  Why would that be?  I checked the meat package and realized that it had two labels.  
One of them said "ground beef.  100% beef raised in France.  May contain traces of milk."  But the other, which I had not noticed said "ground beef boulanese style", and the ingredients there showed tomatoes and Italian spices.  That'll teach me to really look at packaging and labeling, even in France.  
       So there I was with 34 cute little meatballs oozing tomato sauce, and a bunch of blettes, and dinner due in 40 minutes.  What to do?  Quickly I whipped up my favorite recipe for "sauce Provencal"  and started it simmering.  Since we had just had spaghetti yesterday, I decided to make meatball sandwiches, so I thawed a baguette. I used plenty of garlic in the sauce, and then simmered plenty more along with chopped onion in olive oil and butter.  Added a litttle white wine and some of the blettes (the rest I froze) and let it simmer for about 10 minutes.  They tasted pretty good, kind of sweet and still a bit crunchy, but they needed something.  I tried them with a little Parmesan, but that wasn't good.  Then I tried some more with creme fraiche...Yum!  So I added more cream and simmered it for a couple more minutes while I cut the bagette lengthways into sandwich sized pieces, smeared them with olive oil and broiled them for a minute or two.  And there was our dinner.  Open faced sandwiches with meatballs glazed in sauce provencal along with creamy blettes.  The Parmesan was great on the meatballs.  Not quite what I had planned, but not bad.  I'm still hungry for Chinese, though, and will go looking for some real bok choi, or even that other kind of Chinese cabbage (napa?).  I must make kim chi, and soon!