15 May, 2013

Mysteries of the French Countryside

I recently discovered a wonderful book of suspense and romance by Martin Walker, complete with intrigue, sex, food and wine. From the first paragraph I am swept away into the French countryside cheering for the underdogs, waiting for the cross-examinations, following the narrow mountain roads overlooking breathtaking views, and raising a glass to the hamlet’s only café.

The author, Mr. Walker, comes from a political and historical Bruno cover2approach to journalism, but has no difficulty turning his pen to fiction. He regales his readers with the adventures of a lone policeman in Saint-Denis, France in his pilot novel, “Bruno, Chief of Police”. You read that correctly; even though Bruno’s rank is Chief of Police, he is the only policeman in his lovely little village in this part of Burgundian France – Bordeaux. Unraveling the mystery of a murdered Algerian war hero who lived the life of a hermit on the outskirts of town, Bruno must keep the peace on multiple fronts -the crime touches some of the highest seats of the French government Bruno must answer to, while it stirs memories and buried emotions from the war against Nazi Germany among his friends and their relations of Saint-Denis.

As for the genre, there are some that feel a writer must not read what they write for fear of copying. I disagree. When another author does it right, all others should take note, for one can only learn; and learn, I do. For example, these stories The Dark Garden2are about Frenchmen doing French things, in France, yet I am reading in English. But wait, there is plenty of the French language tucked between these pages, craftily woven into the tale – you hardly notice; no need for a character to even say “Bien sûr” or “D’accord”. You just know. Genius. Not how I would have done it, but I find I prefer Walker’s technique.

I love recipes that crop up in books as the characters grill a steak (ooh, must try that marinade) or prepare an egg or potatoes and veggies (so simple, yet so very French). Everywhere Bruno goes he is offered food or drink, giving one an insight into the French way of life. I couldn’t ask for more… except perhaps a second in the series.

Well, I got my wish and a have starting reading “The Dark Vineyard”.


Why You Should Always Carry a Corkscrew

Recently I was at the J. Paul Getty museum with some art friends. The occasion was memorable for many reasons; a few of this group I had not seen for a many years, others I was meeting for the first time. I had never been to The Getty before and the skies were clear enough to see Catalina from the museum balconies. This was a day of firsts. (Those of you who know LA understand the Catalina thing.)

The exhibit I had gone to see was the Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in LA. One of the ‘coolest’ pieces was Ed Ruscha’s 1968 painting, “The Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Fire”.


A funny blog on the subject of the paintings meaning can be found at LACMA.wordpress.com. At the time it was being painted, contemporary artists were angry over not being included in their city’s art scene – there was no place to display their work. Then the LACMA opened - a strict architectural box of a thing surrounded by a mote – very auspicious and not at all reminiscent of a place to expect modern art – still there was few openings for the local arts. The painting expressed the feeling of anger and frustration perfectly and hosted a very lively discussion from our group.

Another painting of interest to me was “A Bigger Splash” byhockney.splash David Hockney. I had always thought that Hockney had drizzled a bit of white paint on his canvas and made a few sweeping strokes to create the splash in the pool. Up close, in fact he had used a tool much like a fork to rake into the wet paint to achieve the splash. The fact that splash detailthe viewer never gets to see who (or what) just entered the water has always been a delight for me.

Then there was lunch. Our group had managed to procure a private board room for our get-together but we had to go down stairs a couple of floors to get something to eat. Coming up in the elevator with trays of soup was hilarious; all of us agreed this scene should be in a movie.

Choosing my meal, I had taken a chance and purchased a $10 half bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, agreeing to split it with a new acquaintance, but was unconvinced that this was a good idea. Just as one should never prepare a dish for the first time when company is about to arrive (it rarely works out well), the same I think, is true with wines. Shouldn’t one have already tasted and approved of a wine before serving it to guests, to avoid a fiasco? I have never heard of the cab, never seen its label and was more than a little concerned that I did not have a pocket aerator with me. A bad wine is often the reason a situation is remembered and I was not looking forward to this being one of them.

We made ourselves comfortable and tasted our lunch. Ah, the food is fabulous. Let’s try the wine.


No corkscrew.

The investment of time away from my lunch date added worry to my insecurity. Why hadn’t I thought of this before leaving the cafeteria? However, in finding a sommelier I also found the restaurant. Elegant and inviting; artsy and upscale, though relaxed; I will definitely be returning.

Back in our private digs, we pour a bit into our glasses. BeautifulHahndeep vampire red colour - you know, the one with a touch of maroon in it. The very little, but graceful nose tells me this will NOT be awful. There’s hope! Finally, the first sip; full bodied a bit spicy but subtle and well blended, and a lightly sweet aftertaste with a long peppery, astringent finish. We look at each other and I realize my wine lover friend had the same worries, and the same relief. “Mmmm, that’s good.” We agree. “What is this?” I turn the bottle around: Hahn. The label has a signature on it (not unlike my own penmanship) that says ‘Nicky Hahn’. Hey, my namesake! (Again, thank goodness it was a good choice.) Hmm, central coast, 2009. I make a mental note to get more of this. I picked up the cork to reseal the last portion and notice it is embossed with the winery’s website. I have heard some do this, but this is the first time I’ve seen it. Great idea; much easier to pop the cork in your pocket or handbag rather than the whole bottle if you have nothing to write with when you want to remember the wine.

As expected, the red elixir opened the conversation to a animated and enjoyable exchange and topped off a perfect day… truly a day of firsts.